Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Not So Magnificent Ambersons

 Mr. Tarkington can spin a tale. . too bad he can't finish one. The ending of this novel disappointed me a bit. I clearly wasn't swept away with it in general or I would have written about it more. Still, it is important to not there there is not a clear corollary between the quality of the novel's writing and the quantity of my own. I have changed jobs and it has taken some time for the new schedule to find its own groove. But it is finding a groove to be sure and so my original goal of 3 Pulitzer posts a week is back on. But, back to our Amberson's.
  Poor George Amberson. He was so busy becoming someone that he forgot to do anything. The battle of doing versus being is a major theme in this work. Likewise it is a major theme in life in general, isn't it? Is the question to our children "What do you want to BE when you grow up?" or "What do you want to DO when you grow up?" Those seem like fairly crucial verb choices.
 There lies a great difference between being and doing. Some of our being is decided long before we take our first gasping breath. George Amberson Minafer came with a silver spoon firmly tucked in his cheek.  Others are born unwanted, alone, and poor. That lot of "being" is unalterable.
  Cue the American Dream. We love our boot straps and we honor those who use them. George probably couldn't have even found his own bootstraps without a butler's guidance. Of course, he found them in the end. He made good. Or at least good-ish. He stopped just being and began doing.
 We can do the same. I am really good at "being" sometimes. I can be smart, eloquent, and impressive with my goals and plans. Then Toto pulls aside the curtain and the world can see that I'm actually someone who reads "The Bachelor" updates regularly and can waste time with the best of them. Can I "be" a good person if I don't "do" good things? Can I "do" good things if I'm not "being" a good person?
 Unlike this picture of an Amberson-esque mansion, life ain't so black and white. Not people who flatter without sincerity are truly insincere. Not all people who have bad tempers are unkind. Some people who love poetry also have a sweet spot for cheap novels. We are all complicated, layered creatures. Even George Minafer had some honor and selflessness. According to what he knew he did what he thought was best. To us level-headed folks it seemed completely irrational and selfish. To another set of level-headed folks our decisions might seem the same. My point is we can't judge ourselves or anyone else as all good/bad/happy/sad/selfish/kind or any other category. Just like George, we are all mixed up with ambitions, intentions, and streaks of mean, lazy, and happy. And maybe some wonderful chunks of magnficence.

Next up is Age of Innocence by Wharton. I'm thrilled. It is a wonderful book, and I'll be writing steadily about it for the next few weeks. And I might throw in a movie review. I've never seen it.  Stay tuned. . .