Today is the first of February, and it’s time to celebrate. There was noticeably more daylight, even yesterday, the last day of January. In fact, there were 45 minutes more daylight yesterday, than the last day of December, and now, days will only get longer, and longer. Before we know it the growing season will arrive. February is the month of Valentines, when tiny snowdrops are due to emerge, and those sprightly crocuses pop up, if the temperatures rise. With a polar vortex blowing down our neck it seems impossible that anything could grow, but more daylight can do wonders, for all those seeds filled with life, lying dormant, under the snow. I, for one, am happy to turn the page of my new calendar.
Yesterday morning early, I glanced at a report in Time Magazine, about a young woman in New York City. She was carrying a baby stroller, with her baby in it, down the stairs of the subway station. The mother was found dead, after impact. Fortunately, the baby was O.K. It wasn’t certain if the mother died from a preexisting condition, or from the fall. The article said that it is not uncommon for people to carry their baby in a stroller down the stairs at the subway station, and that others will often help, but not always. In this case, it wasn’t clear if anyone had offered a hand, or not. When I began my day with this story, I was struck by an incredible feeling of sadness, for this woman, and I don’t even know her. They quoted her brother to say ‘she was a wonderful mother’.
John Donne wrote in his poem, “No Man is an Island”;
Every man’s death diminishes me.
I felt diminished, by the news of this young woman’s death.
Run, whenever, and as fast as you can.
We’re all in a hurry, and want to get things done. Completing tasks that lead to an accomplishment, is a challenge in itself. So many parts go into a final project. One detail of that project might be a source of inspiration. We may be able to envision the final product, but getting there is key. This young man, climbing the hill of the ‘Philosopher’s Way’ will be enlightened when he reaches the top, as his lungs fill with air, and the crisp autumn surroundings envelop his form. He comes from the Ancient People, like all of us. If we’d only come to realize…
“Babbitt” is an important book in American Literature. It mirrors a pivotal time in the history of a country that is less than 150 years old. I agree with an article I recently read that said ‘Goodreads had it all wrong when they gave “Babbitt” an undeserving low score.’ This author, whom I will have to go back and find, said that “Babbitt” is an hilarious book. True enough, but the humor is derived from a dark, satirical critique of society, which is mimicked throughout the 20th century, and now, into the 21st.
Through “Babbitt,” we see in its main character, the result of the reversal of two American political parties; Republicans and Democrats. The story takes place, in 1920, only 55 years after the party of Abe Lincoln, (kind of) freed the slaves, built the Railroad to the Wild West, and started the Homestead Act that allowed new immigrants to find a future for themselves, and their families. Business, at the end of the 19th century, in history, needed the government to get on their feet, and help them build an infrastructure. The Republican party liberally supported these small business people, but once businesses became bigger and stronger, they no longer wanted government snooping around. As a result, the Republican party, needing the support of conservative business to maintain their base, became a conservative party, and gradually began to embrace members that advocated for business enterprise. The Republicans began to undervalue the need to have social programs for the more fragile, and struggling citizens, e.g. immigrants, marginalized citizens, like African (ex-slaves, sharecroppers), and Native Americans, many of Spanish and mixed descent. By 1930, with the election of FDR, the Democrats, the party of the South completely reversed from conservative, into the liberal court, advocating for reforms, and the Republicans, in turn, became the party of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’. Today, we still see members of both parties flip-flopping amongst themselves. Bob Dole, for example, a few years ago reminded the American people ‘to not forget that the Republican party was the party of Abe Lincoln’. There are many Democrat’s who espouse liberalism, yet, when it comes to real voting, go the conservative way, which promotes the White Anglo-Saxon status quo. One could argue that the diversity of thought, within, and across party lines, is crucial to the need for a two party system. A citizen of left leaning thought would object to the white ego-centrism of both parties.
Back to “Babbitt”; its main character ‘Babbitt’ is an incarnation of the completed evolution of the extreme conservative Republican businessman, who by 1920 advocated for big business enterprise, and the acquisition of personal wealth, at the expense of the more feeble citizens, of society. Babbitt, uses false advertising, shrewdly teasing poor people into buying his real estate over its true value, and in the process, materialistically enriches himself. His purpose – to increase, and perpetuate, indefinitely his wealthy status, and image. Babbitt lacks individuality, sees only glitz, loathes Bolsheviks, for bringing down the wealthy Czars, and undervalues human beings that express themselves artistically. Sinclair Lewis with brilliant literary wit, satirically, and allegorically, created ‘Babbitt’, who hauntingly lives today, in the reality of the 21st century.
Note: Sinclair Lewis, a perceptive author, with a keen ability to write in the American English style was born, February 7, 1885. Interestingly, he was a Midwesterner, born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, but attended Yale University. He died near Rome, Italy, was buried in his hometown, and became the first American author to get the Nobel Prize, in 1930.
I’ve begun a new book. It’s called “Babbitt”, written by Sinclair Lewis in 1922. Takes place in 1920, in a fictitious town in Indiana called, Zenith. The main character, Babbitt, a realtor, lives in a new dutch colonial, in a prim and proper neighborhood, with his unhappy wife and strange egotistical children. 1920 seems so long ago, but in reality it is only 3 years before my mom was born, so at least it brings the story into my realm of being.
The story line is familiar. Change the props, and it could be told in the 1950’s or ’60’s. It kills me when in the story, the son of Babbitt insists he must have the car for the evening. This is a young man who, as father reminds him, can’t even pass his Latin exam, but wants everything dished out on a silver platter. Who would expect such a request in the 1920’s?
“Babbitt” is a novel about the American Dream, and how one man believes primarily in himself, to the exclusion of others. A quintessential narcissist, he is in charge of making the American Dream come true in his own image and likeness, and based on how it serves him and his happiness, best. He knows not that every one has dreams, of their own, and in fact he doesn’t care that all people have dreams. He knows nothing about culture, but is concerned only with that which lines his own pockets with gold.
When life presented challenges to Frances Nolan, the main character in a “Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, she would often recall what her granma Mary Rommely would say:
To look at everything as if you were seeing it for the first, and last time. Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” takes place over a 100 years ago beginning with 1912, to about 1917. The beauty of this book is that it is written in heightened realism. The attention to detail, of how character is defined by a sense of place, and their living conditions, brings to light the struggles a poor family had to overcome. This is especially true for Francie, who lost her beloved drunken singing Irish father, when he was only 34 years of age. After her father’s death, Francie forfeited her high school education to work and help her mother, while her younger brother Neely, got to go to high school. They could only afford for one to go. Katie, the mother, who wanted her son to be a doctor, reasoned with her daughter Francie that if she went to high school, and Neely didn’t, he would never go, but she knew her daughter would pursue her education somehow, and that Francie did. Francie never stopped fighting, to get an education. She worked right out of junior high school to help her mother sustain the family, and got herself into night and summer school, until eventually, she ended up going to college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The book, highly autobiographical, was written by Betty Smith, in 1943.
Not a primrose to be found,
at Hockanum Mills.
The daisies, all were dead.
The north wind blew, so fierce, and hard,
with feelings, I could not express..