A trip through the history of marriage, from its earliest beginnings in prehistory to the present day. What is "traditional marriage?" It takes an entA trip through the history of marriage, from its earliest beginnings in prehistory to the present day. What is "traditional marriage?" It takes an entire volume to do justice to the complete answer.
Marriage started as a way for families, tribes, and villages to form alliances and secure aid during hard times. Who is more likely to help you in times of need: a stranger, or family? Marriage made family out of strangers, and in the days before government, individual tribes and villages had to look out for their own survival, and creating relatives in other communities was a good way to avoid conflict over resources, gain allies in times of trouble, and increase landholdings. In this era, marriage was seen as a way to get beneficial in-laws and ensure possessions passed down smoothly from one generation to the next.
Overtime, marriage evolved into two distinct groups: the upper class and the lower class. Among the upper class, the history of marriage is the history of politics. Fathers married daughters and sons to other heads of state in order to secure allegiance with other nations, or often within his own domain. In this way, marriage was for gaining a voice in another king's court, and ensuring your will was represented within your kingdom as well. Among the poor, marriage was a means to acquire more land, more livestock, and a source of labor on the family farm.
Prior to the rise of the market economy, the family farm was the economy, and one person was unable to run a farm by himself. It required at least two people to tend to land and manage all the tasks necessary for basic survival. A wife was expected to do work on the family's land, and a good wife was seen as an industrious woman. Men and women not of noble birth married to help each other survive, not because they loved one another. Children were born to labor on the farm. Marriage was seen as a public affair that affected the whole community, so there was a great deal of scrutiny from neighbors, family, and local authorities. If a couple did not produce an economic benefit to the town and all families involved, it was not allowed. In all instances, the husband was never seen as part of the family, but rather the ruler of the family--a miniature version of a kingdom.
This system persisted for millennia. It wasn't until the market economy began to take over that people became able to survive independent of a spouse. When marriage became optional, things changed. People began to marry because they wanted to marry, not because they had to. At the same time, the French and American revolutions shook up the notion that the man was king of the household. The revolutions ushered in a new idea: power was not absolute, and if the king himself was not absolute, what about man as the head of the house?
The 1800's saw the first major change in marriage in Western culture. Prior to the Victorian period, women were perceived as the lustier sex who tempted men into sin. But when economic and social change in the world called traditional roles into question, the perception of men and women also changed. Now that men and women did not have to marry for economic reasons, why should they marry at all?
The perception of male and female roles changed to compensate. Now women were thought to be pure and asexual, while men were the ones who drew women into impurity and sin. The genders were separate, but together they made a complete whole: men were industrious and ambitious, but women were moral and able to guide their husbands down the right path. Marriage was seen as a way to give balance to both sexes. People began to marry because they wanted to marry, because they felt emotionally attached to one another. This radical idea--that the married couple should like one another and want to be together--changed everything, and at the same time made marriage unstable. With fewer external forces keeping a marriage together (survival, family pressure, land possession, etc.), there was less incentive to stay together. Divorce has been part of marriage since people had a choice in staying together.
After a couple generations of this, people rebelled against the system again, and in the early 1900's women began to break out of their angelic role in the household. The Depression and WWII saw still more shifts in gender roles and marriages. Women worked harder than ever during the Depression, when men could not find work, and while men were off to war.
The postwar prosperity of the 1950's through the early 60's saw the biggest change in marriage yet. Incomes were high, jobs were plentiful, people did not need to marry for alliances or beneficial in-laws, women did not need to work, so it became fashionable for men to do all the work, and women to stay home and keep house. The love-marriage was finally stable, it seemed.
But economic conditions changed. Wages began to fall, and more women entered the workforce to make up the difference, thus ending the ideal of the male-provider/female-homemaker union.
The history of marriage is complex, and varies a great deal between centuries, social classes, cultures, and economic and legal conditions. Marriage did not begin with the Bible, and it does not end with it. A look at the whole history reveals it has never been consistent, or traditional. Marriage was more often than not used to forge alliances with neighbors and secure property. Sons and daughters were sometimes pawns in their parents' game to acquire in-laws with influence and money. Love was never part of it, and husband and wife had to accept their union for financial and political reasons for the good of the family or community, while they found emotional and physical fulfillment outside the marriage. The idea that the married couple should find such fulfillment in each other is a relatively new idea, and it was only made possible by external changes in economics and politics.
The book focuses almost exclusively on Western marriage, which is fine, but I was also curious about marriage customs throughout history in other cultures. That might've made the book twice as long, so I understand why the author focused on the West, but I still would have liked a more complete picture. Also, towards the end the author becomes bogged down in statistics, and it's tiresome, but by then the book is almost over and Coontz has made her point.
A brief history of the Western world from the point of view of marriage. It's an insightful, awe-inspiring way to study history. "Traditional marriage" is a myth conjured by short-sighted people who think the way things were in the 50's is the way they always were, and they way things always will be. Marriage is still changing, and given what marriage used to be, change can only be good. ...more
We've all had the feeling that the real history of the United States isn't the history we were taught. Subtle revelations over our adulthoods--such asWe've all had the feeling that the real history of the United States isn't the history we were taught. Subtle revelations over our adulthoods--such as realizing the Founding Fathers were slaveholders, and Nixon did other things besides Watergate--make us aware that we did not get the whole story growing up. This book confirms all of that.
History didn't just happen. Things caused other things to happen. This more than anything is what was missing from my own personal Social Studies courses. History courses present the topic as a series of inevitable events, not a dynamic of possibilities and choices. For example, nobody taught us the cause of racism, or the cause of the Great Depression, or the reason there was conflict with the Native Americans, or the exact reason for the Civil War. All of these things simply happened on their own, seemingly with no buildup or reason. This book fills in many of those gaps.
I never knew Helen Keller was a radical socialist. I also never knew Woodrow Wilson was a blatant racist, and that under his administration, local and state governments felt comfortable institutionalizing Jim Crow and other segregation laws. Racism and segregation existed long before Wilson, of course, but because the president was all for it, it became an accepted part of the social system. One thing caused another. My history courses never made this clear, and history is boring that way.
It also shows that social class has always existed in America, and reveals that school textbooks go out of their way to dispel any notion that America is anything less than a classless society in which anyone can rise to the top if he or she works hard enough. By and large, success has to do with lineage and environment, not individual determination. This isn't to say successful people can't come from poor backgrounds, but school teaches these exceptions as the rule. A simple look at the poverty immigrants at the turn of the 20th century had to live in attests to that. America was supposed to be the Land of Opportunity, but most immigrants only found drudgery and prejudice. As a result, many turned to crime to survive because they lacked other opportunities.
Also lacking in American history is coverage of the Vietnam War. Even this book is sparse on its examination for what it was really about, which is the point: we're still not sure what we were fighting for, and if we can't figure that out now, we sure as hell didn't know it then.
So many myths that need to be exorcised from the American conscious. Columbus was not a good person; North America was not untamed wilderness by the time of his landing; most of our military actions in foreign countries are prompted by large business interests rather than human affairs; and the reason the Middle East hates us is because we have invaded their countries, repressed the people and stolen their resources, not because they're jealous of our "freedoms."
History textbooks will likely not change, but we are adults. We can accept that much of what we learned was either an outright lie, or a lie by omission, and we can make up our own minds. This is how school should be teaching us to think....more
Very dirty story, but if you didn't know this before buying it, you have only yourself to blame.
Eliza lives on an asteroid colony founded by a splinteVery dirty story, but if you didn't know this before buying it, you have only yourself to blame.
Eliza lives on an asteroid colony founded by a splinter group of humans who wanted to escape the depravity of human society. They teach repression of sexual desire, total obedience to authority, and squelch any sense of wonder. Life to them is following routine and obedience to protocol.
Eliza is flawed. She actually has sexual desire, and she can't stop herself from indulging it. She is caught masturbating during a routine space patrol and sentenced to 2 years hard labor in the mines. After her first year, she is pardoned and selected for a suicide mission: personal aid to a group of reptilian aliens who resemble dinosaurs of the Utahraptor species. (Not velociraptor! Stop confusing the two!) Her superiors are hoping she is killed, just like the last 2 aids they assigned to them, and they even tell her so.
But it turns out her genetic flaw is exactly what the raptors like about her, especially Kraken, the fleet commander.
Most of the story is about Eliza masturbating. No way to sugarcoat it; this is the majority of the story, but there is a good reason for it. This isn't just sex and juicy narration for the sake thereof. There is an actual story going on.
Kraken likes watching her masturbate, and she is drawn to him because he is dangerous and powerful. He has the power to kill her, and yet he chooses to let her be close to his most sensitive parts. This courtship is alluring and erotic in its own way.
Her relationship with Kraken is pretty singular, though. They explore each other sexually, but beyond that they don't really get to know one another. I presume it happens between chapters, since a lot of other things happen then, but I would've liked to see how they get along when they're not exploring each other's reproductive organs.
In spite of this, it's a quick read, it's well-executed, the world it builds is consistent and logical, and the characters are believable.
The finale is unexpected, and Eliza is no damsel in distress. She fights back, and she doesn't need Kraken to save her from danger. Eliza never needs to be rescued, and Kraken never forces her to anything she doesn't want to do. Her contribution to Kraken's nest feels a bit contrived and bizarre, but it does make sense, and creates an element of an alien civilization that is different, leading to a thoughtful conclusion. Dirty as the story is, it is well-written and satisfying....more
Though “Watchman” is being published for the first time now, it was essentially an early version of “Mockingbird.” According to news accounts, “WatchmThough “Watchman” is being published for the first time now, it was essentially an early version of “Mockingbird.” According to news accounts, “Watchman” was submitted to publishers in the summer of 1957; after her editor asked for a rewrite focusing on Scout’s girlhood two decades earlier, Ms. Lee spent some two years reworking the story, which became “Mockingbird.” --New York Times
So let's calm down about this book. It's not a sequel to "To Kill a Mockingbird." Harper Lee didn't ruin Atticus by turning him into a ranting racist in his later years. It is, in essence, the first draft of Harper Lee's timeless classic about growing up in the South. Atticus is clearly not the same character.
Some of the events in "Mockingbird" are narrated as backstory here, but they happened differently. The trial at the end of "Mockingbird," for example. In that book, it ends with a guilty verdict. In this book, it had ended with not-guilty, and Atticus took the case begrudgingly. Same idea, but developed differently--exactly what an author does between drafts.
There are seeds of a good story in here, one that could have stood on its own. Returning to your Southern home after living up North for a while, only to realize your family, neighbors and all your friends are racist; you just never noticed it until you lived around people who weren't. It's a good setup for an insightful story, but it's not very interesting here.
Most of the novel is pointless filler and meandering narration. Jean Louise's conversation with her Uncle Jack, for example, is long, tedious, and fails to make a point. You can tell there is a point trying to come out, but it never does. Most of the conversations in this book are like that. If developed more, it could have been touching. I wish Lee herself had fixed it up. I would have liked to read the finished book--oh, wait I have. It is "To Kill a Mockingbird."
This is an author's first attempt at a novel. Lee never intended it to be published, and it should never have been. It is not a "landmark new novel," as the cover flap decrees. It should have been treated as all first drafts are treated: to be buried and summarized in later analysis. This was released as a cash-grab. Whoever now owns the rights to Lee's work knew it would sell, even if it was crap. If they'd had any sense of respect, they would have released it as the story Lee wrote that would later change into "Mockingbird," not its sequel.
If I were an editor considering this for publication, here is what I would have written to Lee, advising her on how to improve the story:
The premise for the story is quite good. Make the book about Jean Louise ("Scout") seeing her family for the first time in five years. This should not be her fifth annual visit, but the first time she's been home in that time. She notices things she never noticed before, and it's only because she's lived in New York for the last five years that she can look at her family now and understand who they are.
Don't make the racism a new development. It should not be a new event that comes about as a reaction to the NAACP's interference with the South's way of dealing with Negros, but it should have been there the whole time. Scout should look back on her childhood, reflect on certain events and notice details she did not understand until now, and realize the racism had been there the whole time.
For this purpose: as it stands, the flashbacks to Jean Louise's childhood serve no purpose to the story. Chapter 15, for example, can be completely cut from the story, and nothing would be lost. There should be details about colored folk included in those flashbacks. Details she did not think about before, but upon reflection now, make more sense. Details that show this racism has been in the town the whole time--been part of her family since the beginning. This would give the flashbacks a reason to be in the story, and tie them to the present. As is written, they could be removed and not affect anything.
Most of the issue of racism, and the morality of maintaining segregation, is handled in conversation. Longwinded, meandering, preachy conversation in which characters declare the states have the right to manage their own affairs; that the Negro is still uncivilized and can't handle being a full citizen; that there would be chaos if the Negro were allowed to hold government office because they are still a child-race and would vote for their own kind and can you imagine a black man as mayor of Maycomb--why the very idea of a Nego-manchild trying to run the town is laughable and it could happen because whites are outnumbered all over the South. These conversations do reveal many of the justifications for Jim Crow, and I can tell you have a point to make about them, but find a way to show it instead of talk about it.
Change the character names. There is no reason for this to be about Atticus and Jean Louise, since you already wrote about them extensively in To Kill a Mockingbird. Perhaps setting it in Maycomb is unnecessary, as well.
I realize it is a lot to change, but doing so will bring all the hidden themes completely into the light. All of this is there, and it is potentially good, but it's buried under too much extraneous story to be interesting. Implement the changes as noted above, and the rest should fall into place on their own. Good luck, Ms. Lee. ...more
What would it be like to live in World of Warcraft as an NPC? James is a student mage in college. He is killed in a pointless battle. Fifty years lateWhat would it be like to live in World of Warcraft as an NPC? James is a student mage in college. He is killed in a pointless battle. Fifty years later, he and several hundred others are resurrected by an evil Lord as undead servants, but for some reasons all the servants have free will. He works for this dark lord for a few months, hating every minute of it, wishing only to be dead again so the stupid world will leave him alone.
And then the castle is deleted.
Jim is now on a quest to die properly, but along the way he realizes this is bigger than just his own death. The entire world has changed. People die, but then come right back to life in the nearest church; animals don't stay dead for long; plants don't even die or grow. Everyone's reason to live is suddenly moot, and suicide rates are higher than ever because most people find there is little reason to do anything.
But the Adventurer's Guild has taken over and they're bullying people into being questgivers for the many adventurers roaming the countryside. They give the same quests over and over, and it never stops. The world has become enormously boring.
Jim doesn't know it, but he wants to know why almost as much as he wants to end his undead existence.
One big inside joke at the world of online gaming, Mogworld does a fantastic job turning game logic into reality and reminding us what a living hell it would be to actually live in such a world as WoW. The tone is lighthearted and witty, never letting us forget how absurd this is, but also making sure to remind us the fate of the world is at stake. Parts made me smile, and a few witty lines of narration made me laugh.
The whole plot seems so obvious, and perhaps it is, but told in this way with this character's motivation, it feels like a brand new idea that nobody could have written before....more
At first, I dreaded this book. It starts off with an old woman rambling on about her life story, and it seemed the entire book was just going to be thAt first, I dreaded this book. It starts off with an old woman rambling on about her life story, and it seemed the entire book was just going to be that. Pointless, random anecdotes that don't add up to much of anything.
But this old woman lived through the 1900's all the way through the 80's. She saw two world wars, the dawn of the automobile age, the end of the local economy, and segregation.
Quickly, these pointless anecdotes begin to add up to paint a picture of a bygone world in which a small community pulled through the depression, fended off the Ku Klux Klan, and life moved on through the war. A simpler time. A time when it seemed the individual mattered more. These little stories manage to become greater than the sum of their parts. Through these flashes, I got to know the town of Whistle Stop, and the people.
It also portrays segregation and racism not as something a bunch of evil people did in the south a century ago, but the way society worked back then. The book probably shows segregation in a more realistic way than anything I've ever seen or read before. There's no struggle for freedom or equal rights here, no moralizing on if this is right or not; this is simply how things were done, and it's refreshing to see it that way--to experience it as a colored person back then, never questioning it, but trying to work within it, accepting it the whole time because it is all one can do. Flagg portrays the plight of the black man so believably I have a hard time believing she isn't black herself.
I also got to know Evelyn, a woman of 45 who is listening to this old woman ramble. She has come to the age where she realizes her life has not turned out as she hoped. She was raised in a time when a woman's place was in the kitchen, and her purpose in life was to make her husband happy. She has done that, and what has it gotten her? She feels like she missed her chance to do anything with her life, and now she's stuck with a man she barely knows, too old to start over, too young to retire.
But as she listens to more about the forgotten world of Whistle Stop, Alabama, and the café that pulled its people together, she begins to view her life in a whole different way.
Though all we get to see are flashes of these people's lives, they are more than enough to know them, and the world they live in. It is a very different world, almost appealing and somewhat romanticized today, but Flagg never lets you forget that the world is not rosy and happy. These simpler times were full of racism, injustice, and horrific people who seem above the law, but these little people in Whistle Stop dealt with them just fine. They may be southern folk, but they held their own and took care of one another.
It's one of those rare books about which I have no complaints. Not one. It's thoroughly enjoyable, building a world that feels so real I can smell the Hoovervilles, feel the racial tension, and hear the trains coming through this tiny town of 200 residents. The people who live in this world are just as tangible. The anecdotes Mrs. Threadgoode relates make Whistle Stop, Alabama, the kind of place you wish you had grown up, the life experiences you wish you had had, the history you wish you had seen, and the people you wish you had known.
For as short as it is, it's a very challenging read. These stories are dramatic monologues from the point of view of child rapists, pedophiles, and peFor as short as it is, it's a very challenging read. These stories are dramatic monologues from the point of view of child rapists, pedophiles, and people who otherwise derive pleasure from the suffering of others.
The first story is from the point of view of a man who has just abducted a little girl and is forcing her to do all sorts of unspeakable acts. But hurting her isn't enough. He wants to know her. Know the innocent life he's destroying. Know the family he's hurting by taking her away, raping her and killing her.
The second story is from a man's point of view as he gets a blowjob from an ugly hooker, taking great pleasure that he gets to wallow in her filthy world of drugs and self-destruction while never becoming a victim of it--taking even greater pleasure in knowing that he is contributing to her destruction.
Story three is a peep show, and all the things that go through the man's head as he peeks into a disgusting world of hookers and cheap sex. It's like going to the zoo for him.
Story four is a letter from a man who raped and murdered a gay teenager to this teenager's mother, confronting her with the reality of who her son was. The media portrayed this teen as innocent and pure, a victim of a horrible predator who snuffed out this perfect life too soon. This man wants to set the record straight: that kid was messed up before he was killed, and the mother has only herself to blame.
Five is a nonlinear narrative about a man arrested for possessing child porn as he muses on exactly what is important to him, and that the cops who question him do not seem so innocent either. They take perverse pleasure in making him suffer for his crime.
Six is a startling monologue about the difference between female hookers and gay hookers. Straight, female prostitutes feel the need to prove they're good at sucking cock. Gay, male prostitutes *need* it. Watching them succumb to and wallow in this need is where the pleasure is.
That's the point of these stories. It's not the sex these men need, it's the destruction. They derive pleasure from watching other people destroy themselves, and being part of someone else's ruin. The loss of innocence, of happiness, causing scars that will forever haunt that person, snuffing out a life, watching how they forced such powerful emotions on others.
Their sense of empathy and compassion has been twisted to the point where they do not feel it at all. People are merely tools to be used for their own satisfaction, and if that means ruining a child's happiness, or pushing a prostitute deeper into the gutter, that's what it takes. He himself is immune to this suffering; he gets to watch it from a distance, and that's amazing--to watch anguish, to cause it, and yet be untouched by it.
Number seven is a repeat of these musings, but number eight is a letter from a media-watching bystander to a mother whose daughter was abducted, raped and drowned in a gutter. This story turns all of the previous ideas around and holds them like a mirror up to the reader. The innocent bystanders are not innocent either. They, too, feel this same pleasure from watching the suffering of others.
To imagine what someone else has been through while remaining immune to its effects is to romanticize it. I liken it to reading up on the history of the Middle Ages, learning about the lives those people had to endure under such harsh conditions. We, from behind the peepshow glass of the future, can look back on those times and be in awe of what those people had to go through, and even entertain the idea that it might be fun in a way. It gives us some kind of perverse pleasure to imagine the suffering of others in some distant era.
Similarly, when the press presents the suffering of a grieving mother who lost her child, we identify with her, and we are left wanting to know more. We feel like we're connected in some way. In this respect, we are all perverts taking great pleasure in watching someone else's life destroyed.
The final story, Mine/Kept, makes no sense to me and I have no idea what it's supposed to convey. As for the rest, it's a startlingly frank presentation of the stream of consciousness of people who do not feel the same as you and I. People who actually take pleasure out of the destruction of other people, both physically and mentally, shoving this thought process in our face and forcing us to experience the emotions for ourselves.
We all have seeds of this within us. Think about that. Why do we like to watch someone rise to the top and then fall? Why are the masses captivated by a mother grieving for the loss of her child, and why do they seem let down when it has a happy ending? When the press hypes something up and there is no tragic ending, why does the press suddenly lose interest? Why do we lose interest? Do we really feel relief, or do we secretly hope it turns out badly? Do we enjoy it when it does?
Are we any different from the person who gets off to ruining a child's innocence? It's the same emotion, just expressed in slightly different ways. That's why these men do it. Sex is secondary. Hurting someone is primary....more
A world where the gods are real, and for the humans living on the savannah, appeasing them could mean the difference between life and death. In spiteA world where the gods are real, and for the humans living on the savannah, appeasing them could mean the difference between life and death. In spite of their prayers and dances to the gods of the rain and the savannah, their village has faced drought and been destroyed by fire. They have fled to the edge of the savannah, where the forest meets the plains, to start a new life.
But this has drawn the attention of the steward of the forest, Doto, son of the forest god, Kwaee. Doto governs the forest in his father's stead, and he notices the humans have moved close. He assumes they are here to destroy everything, as they once did in the past. His father gives him a task: bring one of the men to him alive.
Meanwhile, Clay, a human in the village devoted to the gods, suffers his brother's blasphemy. Laughing Dog does not believe the gods exist at all. If they did, why did they have to move? Why did the gods not hear their prayers? Perhaps man should start doing things himself instead of begging the gods for favor. Clay is injured on a hunt, and Laughing Dog is held responsible and banished to the desert. Doto snatches Clay from his village and takes him on the long journey to meet his father and answer for the crimes of his people.
The book has a very slow start. The first chapter is interesting, meeting a god, learning how his world works, what his part is in it and how he can manipulate it. Meeting his father had the same effect on me as it had on Doto. *I* was intimidated. Then the focus turns to the humans, and I wasn't nearly as interested in Clay and Laughing Dog as I was in Doto.
It isn't until chapter 4, when Doto takes Clay from his village, that the book picks up. We learn about the world as we journey with Doto and Clay, as they learn about one another's worlds, and things begin to make sense. There are rules the gods must obey, and the book does a good job establishing and sticking to them. Once I got past the buildup and the story began moving, it became a page-turner.
Laughing Dog becomes a much more interesting character when he's on his own, trying to prove his conviction that the gods do not exist. Watching him become a servant, believing all the while it is his will and his idea, becomes scary towards the end. It, too, has a slow start, but the wait does pay off.
A few paragraphs in chapter 4 telegraph where Clay and Doto are going to end up. There is a lot of sexual tension between these two, and the hints early on go too far beyond foreshadowing. Still, watching these two develop a relationship is enormously satisfying, never letting the reader forget they are not equals. This is a god and a man, and the god sometimes behaves like an arrogant child having a tantrum. Over the course of the book, Doto is humbled, both in large ways and in small. He changes a lot from the beginning of the book to the end, and I like what he becomes.
Clay is a passive main character through the whole book, but there is a very good reason for him to be. Towards the end, he does begin to assert himself, and I hope he continues to do so. The book ends hinting at a role reversal, and after all that, it will be a welcome change.
The world Campbell creates is well thought-out and tantalizing, and I look forward to learning more about it, and the people and gods who populate it. The buildup is slow, but the payoff is worth it....more
The current head of the Rosewater Foundation, Eliot Rosewater, is a very peculiar man. He was born to a rich family, has more money than he could everThe current head of the Rosewater Foundation, Eliot Rosewater, is a very peculiar man. He was born to a rich family, has more money than he could ever spend on his own, and yet all he wants to do is help the poor. There are people conspiring to declare him insane so they can install a new head of the Foundation. Someone they can manipulate into diverting some of that money into their undeserving hands.
The narrative is so disjointed, never finding a focus. It wanders back and forth from past to present and from character to character, some of whom have no relevance to the plot, but serve to illustrate the theme in some way.
It's the same theme of Player Piano, but more mature and better-defined. In this day and age when man's jobs are replaced by machines, people are still expected to make a living. (Vonnegut predicts that if this trend continues, people will need two doctorates just to find a job. We're almost there.) As the poor are pushed into unemployment, the wealthy people in the country teach the poor to feel bad about themselves for not having enough determination to get rich, as they themselves have done.
The rich people in this book believe all poor people are just lazy freeloaders who should thank the rich for all that they've created, such as the sunrise and the ocean.
However, none of the rich people earned their money through determination and hard work. They're living off the wealth their ancestors made, and because they have money, it's easy for them to make more. Hell, their money grows on its own without them having to do a thing to it. Their ancestors didn't even make their fortunes by working hard, but by swindling the right people and making investments that happened to pay off.
Vonnegut mocks the conservatives who tell the people they must work hard to achieve success. He even pokes at the people who think wealth redistribution is the answer to America's problems by showing that people who gain large sums of money become useless, too.
That's the heart of the story: uselessness. The poor have no money, their jobs are replaced by machines, and so they have no purpose in the world anymore. The rich have money, don't need to work, and therefore have no purpose in the world either. The two case studies of uselessness, a rich town and a poor town, show the same futility. Opposite sides of the same coin.
The rich think it's pointless to help the poor because if you help the poor, you take away their incentive to help themselves. Charity, welfare, etc. make people dependent on the handouts of others and they become lazy and useless. Eliot discovers this several times, when he buys something for a person, only for that person to squander it.
Vonnegut shows that the rich have had handouts of their own, primarily though inheritance, and have become the very definition of "useless" they despise.
Only a few have actually done well under the free market system, and they are still slaving away to get by.
It's rich verses poor in this disjointed, meandering tale of human beings who struggle against uselessness. Fifty years after this book was published, and people are still saying the same things. Nothing has changed at all since the 60's.
Is Eliot insane? For daring to think of people as human beings instead of judging them by what use they are to the world, yes. He is....more
One of those books that can be retitled "Can You Finish It?" It's a thick, dense story that takes a long time to get started. In fact, the book didn'tOne of those books that can be retitled "Can You Finish It?" It's a thick, dense story that takes a long time to get started. In fact, the book didn't grab me until about halfway through it!
It starts with J. Arnold Ross and his six-or-seventh-grade son taking a car ride to a place in California where they are going to negotiate rights with a community to drill for oil on their land. You see, Mr. Ross is an independent oil baron. He's drilled dozens of tracts all over California, and has made quite a name for himself in the industry. The community descends into bickering with one another, and Ross abandons negotiating with those people. Instead, he drills somewhere else, on land with a much more reasonable person.
During this, Ross Jr. ("Bunny") meets Paul Watkins, a teenage runaway who wants to escape his father's religious fanaticism and strike out on his own, where he's free to think for himself and question the faith. Paul tells him there's oil on his father's land, but they're about to lose their house because they can't pay the bank anymore. Paul vanishes into the night.
Bunny is moved with compassion, so he takes his father there and begs him to buy the lease. He sees a way to get his father to do it: buy the lease and get an oil land to himself at the same time. They'll be helping a family in need and securing an oil field at once.
So they get to the Watkins ranch, Ross buys the land but doesn't tell the family there's oil on it. He is set to get millions out of the land, but only pays a few thousand for it. Bunny feels uneasy about this, but it is business.
To drill the oil, Ross has to bribe officials and buy local politicians just to get a road built. And then there is the strike. Bunny's father, along with the Petroleum Employers' Federation, put down a strike.
In practice Dad had observed that a labor union enabled a lot of officials to live off the work of the real workers; these officials became a class by themselves, a sort of vested interest, and they look out for themselves, and not for labor. They naturally had to make some excuse for their own existence, and so were apt to stir up the workers to discontent ...
Ah, but Paul, now head of the labor, argues that before Mr. Ross joined the Federation, he paid his employees a dollar a day more just to attract better workers. Once he joined what amounts to a union for the employers, he had to pay them the standard rate. The entire oil industry is unionized at the employer level who fixes prices, wages and working hours, so why should the workers not have a union to represent their interests, too?
Capital verses Labor. Bunny gets to see this conflict over and over, and then at the 45% mark or so, something interesting happens: the oil baron's son becomes a communist sympathizer. I had to slog through over 200 pages before the book got interesting. Up until then, everything Mr. Ross does comes across as just necessary to do business. But when Bunny starts to turn Red, now I have to see how this plays out.
The first world war happens, and though Bunny is protected from serving, Paul goes into it and ends up in Siberia for over a year. Bunny learns from one of his college professor the real reason for the war:
What Mr. Irving said was that our troops were in Siberia because American bankers and big business men had loaned enormous sums of money to the government of the Tsar, both before the war and during it; the Bolshevik government had repudiated these debts, and therefore our bankers and business men were determined to destroy it. It was not merely the amount of the money, but the precedent involved; if the government of any country could repudiate the obligations of a pervious government, what would become of international loans?
Bunny slowly begins to understand how the country works, and who's running it, and it isn't the government.
Bunny's father joins with Victor Roscoe, another independent oil baron, and form a joint company. As the years go by, Dad and Mr. Roscoe apply those old techniques on a bigger scale. They buy politicians, judges, everyone they need to obtain more land for drilling and to keep the workers down.
This book portrays what the communist movement was really all about, and it had nothing to do with taking hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn't earn it. It was about getting rid of the elite class of fat cats living off the work of others.
It even presents the Capitalist's point of view:
"I can buy officials, just the same as I can buy any politicians, or anybody else that a bunch of boobs can elect to office. ... It's because i had the brains to make the money, and I got the brains to use it. Money ain't power till it's used, and the reason I can buy power is because men know I can use it. ... I'm going to find oil and bring it to the top of the ground and refine it and sell it to whoever's got the price. So long as the world needs oil, that's my job; and when they can get along without oil, I'll do something else. And if anybody wants to share in that job, let him do like I done, get out and sweat, and work, and play the game."
"But Mr. Roscoe, that's hardly a practical advice for all the workers. Everybody can't be an operator."
"No, kiddo, you bet your boots they can't--only them that's got the brains. The rest have to work."
Bunny realizes all his father's wealth was earned on the backs of underpaid, overworked workers. People die getting their oil out of the ground, and yet the oil barons don't think the workers deserve a living wage, or safe conditions.
This is fascinating, watching a rich kid come to terms with the reality of where his life of luxury came from. He's not really a communist, but he does sympathize with them. Really, what were the ideas that constituted a Red?
Apparently there are communist ideas: To acknowledge that the whole reason we go to war and are involved with other countries is because the rich business owners demand a return on their investment, therefore the rest of us must fight and die for them. They buy the press, the movies, the politicians and get them to present it as a moral and just reason to fight, but really it's all about money and protecting their status as the rich elite.
Perhaps we have no right to be in foreign countries. Perhaps we should leave other countries alone. Perhaps these people were merely trying to fight for their equal right. Perhaps they fight to get rid of the burden of occupation, and we are in fact the bad guy? Maybe the only threat was to the white man's ruling class and it had nothing to do with morality at all, but to protect the current establishment?
These are the ideas that got someone branded as a communist? To dare criticize America's intentions, its institutions? There was a time when certain viewpoints were heavily censored. We don't like to call it that in America, but it's what happened. Voicing ideas like these was once forbidden. These were the ideas that were branded un-American and censored??
Nothing could change the fact that it was on money wrung from Paradise workers that Bunny was living in luxury; nothing could change the fact that it had been to increase the amount of this money, to intensify the exploitation of the workers, that Paul had spent three months in jail and the other fellows were to spend nearly a year in jail.
J. Arnold Ross got rich by working his people into the ground. The Capitalists argue that without themselves to direct the whole process, none of those men would have had a job to begin with, but, Bunny wonders, does that really justify taking everything and giving next to nothing to the people who got that oil out of the ground for them? The Socialist movement was about balance and fairness, not redistribution.
Bunny witnesses all the things his father did when he was just an independent. He took the Watkins land without telling them he thought there was oil on it, bribed politicians to get roads built for him, bought up land secretly so no one suspected an oil man was there and the prices go up. When it's small like this, it's just something a man has to go get business done without being cheated.
But when Mr. Ross and Mr. Roscoe do these things on a national scale, things are different. Their company buys politicians, judges, clerks and everyone up and down the line to manipulate the government to the oil barons' favor. People fake documents, destroy still more documents and create legal reason to kick people off their land when oil is discovered on or near it. These people are out of a home, receive no compensation for the oil on their land, or the land itself, and because the oil companies bought the judges and the politicians, there is no legal recourse.
A pitiful, pitiful story--and the worst part of it, you could see it wasn't a single case, but a system. One more way by which the rich and powerful were plundering the poor and weak!
Bunny learns it isn't those who work the hardest who get the reward of riches and success, rather those who exploit others the best that get to be rich and live easy lives. He wonders if there is a better system to live by than simply to throw all the world's resources on the ground and let everyone fight for it all, and only the greediest, nastiest, most heartless people get anything.
Here are a few more good quotes:
It was a world in which some people worked all the time, and others played all the time. To work all the time was a bore, and no one would do it unless he had to; but to play all the time was equally a bore, and the people who did it never had anything to talk about that Bunny wanted to listen to.
Capitalism formed a class of rich elites who do nothing but go to parties and gossip about each other. Bunny doesn't fit into this life at all. He sympathizes with the oil workers who risk their lives to get oil out of the ground, all so he and Dad can live easy. Bunny feels guilty about it.
but what did she want with five thousand a week? To buy more applause and attention, as a means of getting more thousands and for more weeks? It was a vicious circle--exactly like Dad's oil wells. The wobblies had a song about it in their jungles: "We go to work to get the cash to buy the food to get the strength to go to work to get the cash to buy he food to get the strength to go to work--" and so on, as long as your breath held out.
It was the working world then, as it is now.
...their lack of familiarity with their jobs was a cause of endless trouble; they would slip from greasy derricks, or get crushed by the heavy pipe, and the company had had to build an addition to the hospital. But of course that was cheaper than paying union wages to skilled men!
It is cheaper to hire people who don't know what they're doing and mess up more, than to hire skilled people a decent wage.
The book is about Bunny trying to decide what he is. Pink or Red. Socialist or Communist. Those who want to achieve better conditions and wages peacefully by negotiation, or those who want an outright revolution against the rich men who manipulate entire countries to protect their own power and business interests. This is what the Communists stood for. No wonder the Capitalists were so hell-bent against it.
The Capitalists despise democracy because it is only through buying the government that business can exist in this way, and they can have such power. Therefore, business becomes a competition to buy the government. The book portrays the Red goal being to break the strangle of big business on the government and restore democracy that represents the people's interests. Doesn't that sound familiar? Upton Sinclair wrote about today's world in 1927. Nothing has changed.
It's a very dense, hard-to-read book, but once J. Arnold Ross Jr. begins to sympathize with the communists, it becomes a surprising page-turner.