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A Jung Man's Fancy Post by :radhika Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3189

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A Jung Man's Fancy

Pollyanna died and, of course, she was glad and went to Heaven. It is just as well. The strain had become a little wearing. We had Liberty Loan orators, too, and Four-Minute men and living in America came to be something like being a permanent member of a cheering section. All that is gone now. Pointing with pride has become rude. The interpretation of life has been taken over by those who view with alarm. Pick up any new novel at random and the chances are that it will begin about as follows:

"Hugh McVey was born in a little hole of a town stuck on a mud bank on the western shore of the Mississippi River in the State of Missouri. It was a miserable place in which to be born. With the exception of a narrow strip of black mud along the river, the land for ten miles back of the town--called in derision by rivermen 'Mudcat Landing'--was almost entirely worthless and unproductive. The soil, yellow, shallow and stony, was tilled, in Hugh's time, by a race of long, gaunt men, who seemed as exhausted and no-account as the land on which they lived."

On page four the reader will find that young Hugh has been apprenticed to work on the sewers and after that, as the writer warms to his task, things begin to grow less cheerful. This particular exhibit happens to be taken from Sherwood Anderson's Poor White, but if we go north to Gopher Prairie, celebrated by Sinclair Lewis in Main Street, we shall find: "A fly-buzzing saloon with a brilliant gold and enamel whisky sign across the front. Other saloons down the block. From them a stink of stale beer, and thick voices bellowing pidgin German or trolling out dirty songs--vice gone feeble and unenterprising and dull--the delicacy of a mining camp minus its vigor. In front of the saloons, farm wives sitting on the seats of wagons, waiting for their husbands to become drunk and ready to start home."

Wander as you will through the novels of the year, I assure you that things will be found to be about the same. Of course, it is possible now and again to get away from the stale beer, but once a story enters prohibition time the study of starved souls and complexes begins. There are also books in which there isn't any mud, but these pay particular attention to the stifling dust.

It must be that all this sort of life has been going on for some time, but naturally during the war when the Hun was at the gate it would hardly have been patriotic to talk about it. Now that it's all among friends we can talk about our morals and habits and they seem to range from none to appalling. I can't testify completely to the state of affairs reported upon by the novelists, because I have spent a good deal of time recently in the theater and it is only fair to say that there, at any rate, peach jam and country air still combine to reform city dwellers, and people get married and live happily ever after, and some of them dance and sing and make jokes, and, of course, sunlight and moonlight and pink dresses and green ones and gold and silver ones, too, abound. My aunt says that this is just as it should be. "There's so much unhappiness in the world," she says, "that why should we pay money to see shows and read books that help to remind us about it. The man worth while," she says, "is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong."

Practically all the shows in town seem to have been written to please my aunt, but I don't agree with her at all. As a matter of fact, she lives in Pelham and has never heard of Freud or Jung. I tried to convince her once that practically all of what we call the civilized world is inhibited, and she interrupted to say that the last Saturday night lecturer told them the same thing about Mars. Perhaps it will be just as well to leave my aunt out of the story at this point and go on to explain why the modern novel is more stimulating and encouraging to the ego than the modern play.

First of all, it is necessary to understand that a novel or a play or any form of art is what we call an escape. To be sure, a good many plays of the year are not calculated to give anybody much of a start on the bloodhounds, but you understand what I mean. Take, for instance, the most humdrum person of your acquaintance and you will probably find that he is an inveterate patron of the moving pictures. Lacking romance in real life he gets it from watching Mary Pickford in the moonlight and seeing Douglas Fairbanks jump over gates. He himself will never be in the moonlight to any serious extent and he will jump no gates. The moving pictures will have amply satisfied his romantic cravings.

The man in the theater or the man who reads a book identifies himself with one of the characters, hero or villain as the case may be, and while the spell is on he lives the life of the fictional character. Next morning he can punch the time clock with no regrets. An interesting thesis might be written on the question of just what bearing the eyebrows of Wallace Reid have upon the falling marriage rate in the United States, but that would require a great many statistics and a knowledge of cube root.

Assuming then that art,--and for the purposes of this argument moving pictures and crook plays will be included under that heading,--takes the place of life for a great many people, what do we find about the pernicious effect of happy novels and plays upon the community in general? Simply that the man who is addicted to seeing plays and reading books in which everybody performs prodigies of virtue is not even going to the trouble of doing so much as one good deed a day on his own account.

The man who went with me to see Daddies a couple of seasons ago glowed with as complete a spirit of self-sacrifice as I have ever seen during all three acts of the play. He projected himself into the story and felt that he was actually patting little children on the head and adopting orphans and surprising them with Christmas gifts. On the way uptown he let me pay the fares and buy the newspapers as well. All his kindly impulses had been satisfied by seeing the play. He was very cross and gloomy for the rest of the week.

Being rather more regular in theatergoing than my friend, I failed to make any complete identification with anybody on the stage, but I was also somewhat depressed. The saintly old lady in the play had spoken of "the tinkling laughter of tiny tots" and it made me reflect on the imperfections of life. It did not seem to me at the time as if any of the children who live in the flat next door ever really tinkle. A week later I saw Hamlet and the effect was diametrically opposite. Everything in the play tended to make life seem more cheerful. He was too, too solid in flesh, also, and in many other respects he seemed ever so much worse off than I was. After watching the rotten state of affairs in Denmark, Ninety-fifth Street didn't seem half bad. And, goody, goody! next week an Ibsen season begins!

It is no accident that the Scandinavian drama is generally gloomy. Ibsen understood the psychology of his countrymen. He lived in a land of long cold winters and poor steam heat. If he had written joyfully and lightheartedly, thousands, well say hundreds, of Norwegians would have gone home to die or to wish to die. Instead he gave them folk like Oswald, and all the Norwegian playgoers could go skipping out into the moonlight with their teeth chattering from laughter as much as from cold. After seeing Ghosts there is no place like home. I wish some of the Broadway dramatists were as shrewd as Ibsen. Then we might have plays in which nobody could raise the mortgage and the rent crisis in our own lives would seem less acute.

If the heroine were turned out into a driving snowstorm and stayed there, I might appreciate our janitor. And if the wild young men and the women who pay and pay and pay would only quit reforming in the third act and climbing back to respectability out of the depths of degradation, I know I could derive no little satisfaction from the knowledge that the elevator in our building runs until twelve o'clock on Saturday nights.


(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Jung Man's Fancy

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