CHAUVINISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Three Musketeers

By Alexandre Dumas

Narrated by Simon Vance

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870, French Author)

“The Three Musketeers” is a character driven story loaded with romantic heroes and riven with specters of evil.  In the context of today’s “me to” movement, it is a female bashing and debasing tale wrapped in a male chauvinist delusion.

“The Three Musketeers” reinforces histories’ misshapen view of women’s rightful place as hero and/or villain.

In “The Three Musketeers” women are the cause of war, heart ache, and most maladies of humankind.  In that view, Dumas joins the pantheon of writers that demean women.

On the other hand, Dumas creates a female character that is an equal to diabolical protagonists in other famous novels. There is no villain more devious, complicated, and scarily drawn than Milady de Winter.

Alexandre Dumas is one of France’s most well-known writers. At the risk of being identified as a fellow misogynist, “The Three Musketeers” is a fiction writer’s tour de force and a joy to listen to when narrated by a master story teller. 

Meeting d’Artagnan for the first time and learning about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, his three gallant and inseparable friends, is a guilty pleasure. There are no male heroes more brilliantly defined than Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan.

Dumas writes the story of d’Artagnan, a 19 year old romantic that leaves his homeland with a letter of introduction to Monsieur de Treville, the Captain of the Musketeers.  The hero, d’Artagnan is unknowingly pitched into the middle of a jealous rivalry between the French King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s competing cadre of French protectors. 

Dumas cleverly interlaces facts of history with stories of Musketeer bravery, hi-jinks, and romance that reminds humans of their best and worst qualities. 

Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642).


England and France are on the verge of war in the early 1600s.  The jealous rivalry of the King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s nationalists roil the relationship between the King of France and its Cardinal. 

The Musketeers walk a fine line between their support of the King and Queen and Richelieu’s defense of the country. 

Queen Anne of Austria (1615-1643, Louis XIII’s wife).


Richelieu is painted as a powerful French nationalist and a venal schemer who lusts for Queen Anne.

Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628).


The dastardly Cardinal goes to great lengths to expose the Queen’s affection for the English Duke of Buckingham; partly to save France from England’s covetousness, but also (in Dumas’s fiction) to break the relationship between King and Queen.

Dumas suggests Richelieu’s plan is to soil the Queen’s reputation with an already jealous King.

King Louis XIII (1601-1643).


A principal cause for the war between England and France is purported to be the Duke of Buckingham’s immoral advances toward France’s Queen Anne and Queen Anne’s suspected cuckolding of King Louis the XIII. 

Women are unceasingly characterized as fickle, conniving, gullible, or duplicitous. 

Dumas describes d’Artagnan’s infatuation with the married Constance Bonacieux. It is not unlike Richelieu’s alleged lust for Queen Anne. Dumas adds d’Artagnan’s dalliance with Milady de Winter, a wily protagonist, and her sometimes associate Richelieu. Neither men nor women seem entirely chaste in Dumas’s tale, but women are characterized less gallantly.

Listening to Vance’s narration of “The Three Musketeers” is an addictive pleasure in spite of Dumas’s fickle characterization of women. 

The words from Milady de Winter vividly portray human nature at its worst.  Both the Cardinal’s, d’Artagnan’s, and Milady de Winter’s virtues leave much to be desired. Generally, women in “The Three Musketeers” are characterized as objects, more than equals to men. How much has changed since the 19th century?

Nevertheless, “The Three Musketeers” ending is thrilling and satisfying to many deluded misogynists among us.

CATHOLIC GUILT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
By James Joyce

Narrated by John Lee

James Joyce (1882-1941, Irish novelist, poet, teacher, and literary critic.)

James Joyce gives us a picture of Catholic Ireland in the early 20th century.  He describes an Irish home; i.e. riven with Catholic guilt and ambivalent beliefs about God and Ireland’s place in the Gaelic world. 

Joyce’s main character, Stephen Dedalus, is born into an upper middle class Irish family that falls on hard times.  Dedalus graduates from a Jesuit school and moves on to college but his life steers away from God and Ireland in his journey to manhood.

Stephen chooses his own path in life but like all humankind he carries the genetics of family and circumstance that compel life’s decisions.  Like his father, Stephen is drawn to agnosticism, bordering on atheism, because of worldly pleasures and pains.  The pleasures of sexual adventure and the pains of Irish conflict (about religion and statehood) drive Stephen’s escape from Catholicism and his father’s fall from grace.

The fragility of the Catholic Church is evident in James Joyce’s “…Portrait…”  Dedalus is portrayed as a top of his class student that is coveted by the Church hierarchy that wants Stephen to become a Jesuit priest.

The strength and allure of the Church at that time is clearly evident in Joyce’s description of the Catholic Priesthood’s power to attract the best and the brightest of its brethren.  However, Dedalus, after a day contemplating the Church’s offer, chooses to pursue a broader life.

Even though the Church offers a vocation of prominence and security, Stephen rejects it.  The irony of the rejection is that Stephen’s Catholic guilt propels him away from a life of Catholicism. Stephen realizes that he cannot resist worldly temptation.

To Stephen, the mechanism of Catholic forgiveness of sins seems formulaic and inadequate for the purpose of cleansing one’s soul.

The prescience of Joyce’s insight is fully realized in today’s Catholic Priesthood and its failure to protect Catholicism’s children.

And so, Stephen Dedalus is cast adrift.  He is a teacher and poet; highly regarded by most of his peers and recognized by many as an intellectual superior.  He wishes to escape Ireland; to see the world.  This is “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.

At best, one sees Stephen Dedalus as a burgeoning Humanist; at worst, a hedonistic life traveler. A great read; well told by John Lee.

OVERCOMING

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexandre Dumas

Narrated by John Lee

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870, French Autor)

Alexandre Dumas is a French Charles Dickens and a writer of “Dostoyevsky light” stories.  The narrator, John Lee. magnifies “The Count of Monte Cristo” characters with an exotic voice that markedly enhances Dumas’s story.  

Charles Dickens (1812-1870, English Author and soicial critic.)

Like Charles Dickens, Dumas creates interesting characters. And, like Dostoevsky, he creates emotionally driven protagonists. 

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881, Russian novelist, essayist, journalist, and philosopher.)

Dumas writes a story of revenge with twists of fate that have Dickens’ coincidences and “Dostoevsky-like” motivations.

The hero is Dante, the wrongfully accused, convicted, and secretly incarcerated prisoner. The heroine is Mercedes, the love of Dante’s life that mourns his disappearance on their wedding day. 

Dante is unjustly imprisoned for being a Bonopartist based on inadvertent collusion by Danglars, Villifort, and Fernand.  They all have different motives for jailing Dante. 

The jealous and greedy merchant, Danglars wants to rid himself of Dante because he is a commercial rival.  An ambitious, duplicitous, and sycophantic, politician, Villifort, wants to hide his family’s involvement with the Bonapartists.  Fernand wants to remove Dante from his wedding to give himself an opportunity to marry Mercedes himself.

(Bonapartism is the political ideology of Napoleon Bonaparte. In government speak, it is a dictatorial executive with a weak and ineffectual legislative body, filled with sycophants.)

Luck and fate mix into Dante’s imprisonment. Dante escapes and becomes fabulously rich.   Dante travels the world after his escape and searches for information about people in his life before imprisonment. 

A cloak of mystery surrounds Dante as he appears in the lives of his friends and enemies.  The cloak is removed at perfect moments in each episode.  He endeavors to understand his friends and enemies strengths and weaknesses. 

Dante rewards his friends and punishes his enemies.  Plans for revenge and exposure of his enemies’ misdeeds are cleverly woven into the story.  Each colluding villain is defeated by his own human weakness. 

Danglars’ greed becomes his destruction.  Villifort’s lies lead to madness.  Fernand’s false accusation, and the loss of Mercedes’ love drive him to commit suicide.

The story is a tangled web of relationships, guilts, and crimes that are satisfyingly resolved by the end of the book.  Overcoming life’s adversity and justice’s triumph are the appeal of “The Count of Monte Christo”.

Who among Dumas’s three villains in “The Count of Monte Cristo” reminds one of America’s Bonapartist President?

FREE WILL

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Narrated by Walter Covell

Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian Novelist, 1821-1881)

Twenty years before Sigmund Freud’s “…Psychopathology of Every Day Life”, Fyodor Dostoevsky penetrates man’s subconscious to reveal unnamed frames of mind that influence human behavior. 

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis (1856-1939)

All of Dostoevsky’s writing probes the human mind allowing listener/readers to hear unspoken thought and vicariously experience the consequence of singular deliberation.

Human aggression, compassion, love, and hate possess “The Brothers Karamazov”.  The origins of these feelings are nakedly exposed in the murder of “The Brothers…” hedonistic father.

One of four brothers is suspected to be a murderer.  The oldest brother is a student intellectual, a middle brother is an effusive pleasure seeker, and the youngest is a pious seminarian.  A lurking illegitimate fourth son (aged somewhere between the oldest and youngest) adds to Dostoevsky’s tale of parricide.

The irony of isolated thought and deliberation is that it can lead to genius or horrendous crime. The first might be a Paul Dirac; the second a Ted Bundy or Theodore Kazcynski.

Theodore Robert Bundy was an American serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar, and necrophiliac (1946-1989) Electrocuted–1989 in a Florida prison.

“The Brothers Karamazov” introduces Ivan Karamazov, an intellectual agnostic. Ivan’s agnosticism and misanthropy contrasts with his younger brother, Alyosha.  Alyosha is a character reminiscent of an earlier Dostoevsky’ work (“The Idiot”) who exemplified man’s goodness in a life lived in contemplation and moderation.

“The Brother’s Karamazov” illustrates life’s contrasts with Alyosha, a saintly hero and Ivan, a deluded manipulator of human events. Both live lives of contemplation but one chooses to become a monk; the other an intellectual misfit.

God, free will, lust, innocence, guilt, and responsibility play out in thoughts and actions of the four brothers.  If free will exists, where does it begin and end?  Are we free?  Are we driven by human nature or by God’s plan to become who we are; and to do what we do? 

If you teach someone to hate as Ivan teaches Smerdyakov, his illegitimate brother, are you innocent of actions taken by those whom you teach?  Does a teacher have any guilt; any responsibility for bad actions of the student? 

As an intellectual, Ivan explains he does not believe in God.  And later, he denies any responsibility for his father’s murder.  His beliefs lead him to despair when he realizes Smerdyakov is the murderer. 

Ivan eventually takes moral responsibility for his father’s death.  At the end, Ivan seems on the verge of reassessing his belief in God; i.e. an assessment dear to Dostoevsky’s life and a subject espied in all his work.

The question of free will is challenged by the history of the Karamazov family.  Every characteristic of the brothers is reminiscent of a part of their father’s strengths and weaknesses. 

All of the brothers in varying degrees are molded into who they are by their paternal father and their Holy Father.  The evidence of their Holy Father’s role is exhibited by the guilt ridden consciences of everyone but Smerdyakov. Finally, with Ivan’s final acceptance of responsibility for his father’s murder, Dostoevsky concludes an argument against free will.

Fyodor Dostoevsky brilliantly expands the value of literature with his insight into the relationship between thought, instinct, and action. Ivan’s broader intellect, and Smerdyrkov’s lesser intellect informs their actions. Instinct informs Mitya’s action. Religious belief informs Alyosha’s action.

The characters in Dostoevsky’s imagination are incarnations of religious belief. In “…Brothers Karamazov” each character’s life is prescriptive. Life is either designed by genetic inheritance or fulfillment of God’s plan. One suspects Dostoevsky believes the second more than the first.

FAULTS OF HUMANITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Illustrated Man
By Ray Bradbury

Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia (this version not available at Audible)

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012, American Author and screenwriter)

Flights of imagination sparkle and spin in this updated 1950s classic by Ray Bradbury, “The Illustrated Man” and its accompanying short stories.

Bradbury writes stories that remind one of late night re-runs of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”.  (Serling died in 1975.) Every episode sparkles with stars and planets, habitable by man but riddled with fear, death, and destruction. 

Bradbury grasps human nature and turns it against itself by writing stories that illustrate man’s selfishness, insecurity, wantonness, and aggression.

Tattoos come alive on rippling skin to act out a series of plays about mankind’s future.  Everyone fears the illustrated man because his tattoos expose the worst in man. 

Bradbury writes a story showing nuclear cataclysm will end life on earth.  Traveling to other planets changes mankind’s environment but man’s nature remains the same.

These are not happy stories but they are great flights of imagination.  Bradbury tells a story of human exile and deprivation that heightens human selfishness.

When personal reward is dangled in front of exiled and deprived human beings, the dangled reward is stolen by one to keep it from the many. In the end the reward is destroyed by the selfishness of each against the other.  

As the psychologist Erich Fromm notes: Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. 

Insecurity and envy are devouring beasts in the story of a planet blessed by an appearance of a Visitor (presumably Jesus) just before a rocket ship lands on the planet that has been visited.

The ship’s captain disbelieves it has happened. The captain who lives here is living in paradise. He is driven to track down this Visitor rather than settle in the secure surroundings of a blessed world.  The captain is left to wander the universe, never to arrive in time to actually see the Visitor. 

Wantonness is illustrated by the husband that is unhappily married.  He duplicates himself.  His duplicate takes his place beside his wife so so the real husband can buy a ticket to Rio to exercise his fantasy. 

The duplicate is so perfect it becomes as human as the husband.  When the wanton husband returns from Rio, the duplicate puts him in a box to die. The duplicate then buys a ticket for the wife to accompany him to Rio. 

Human kind is aggressive.  Humans conquer and destroy civilizations.  Bradbury creates a world of the future invaded by humans. The humans destroy its civilization.

The remnants of the destroyed civilization prepare for a second visit from mankind. The remnants of the city devour the humans of the second visit and assume their bodies. These doppelgangers plan to return to earth to destroy those who had destroyed them.

Bradbury is a master story teller.  Paul Michael Garcia’s narration is a tribute to Bradbury’s skill.

BLACK FACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Uncle Tom’s Cabin 


By Harriet Beecher Stowe

Narrated by Richard Allen

The meaning of words changes with the generations.  An “Uncle Tom” became a pejorative description of any oppressed minority that accepts slavery and maltreatment as a God given burden, a condition of natural life.  (See “Freedom and Equality”.)

The rise of black face minstrels and college party jokers carry through to the 20th century. The “Uncle Tom…” in Harry Beecher’s book is no minstrel and no joke.

In the context of the 20th and 21st centuries Beecher’s book is taken out of context.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is written in an era, brutally described by Frederick Douglas (see “Frederick Douglas”), when human beings are traded as futures commodities. Douglas, a great American black leader, who personally knew Stowe, praises her for writing this book.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the slave trade lines the pockets of slave traders, plantation owners, and industrialists.  Black degradation is reinforced by laws of the land; i.e. slave owners could shackle, whip, sell, rape, and murder slaves with little censure and no penalty. In that context, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom…” is a Black Saint.

This is not only a book about slavery; i.e. it is a book about humankind and how abominably one ethnic group can treat another. It is a story told many times in history and in the present day.

The apocryphal story of Abraham Lincoln having said “So this is the little lady who started this great war” is undoubtedly un-true, but for the 1850’s, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a revolutionary book used to fuel the abolitionist cause in America and around the world. 

The role of religion has a mixed history in the story of slavery.  Religion plays roles in advancing and abolishing slavery.  Religion serves as a refuge for slaves by preaching the gospel of forgiveness and an afterlife while many Catholic and protestant religions promote slavery as a biblical right of the white race.

The irony of religion’s followers is that it mollifies Black resistance for those who believe in a Divine Creator. At the same time, biblical writings are used by white supremacists to justify unequal treatment. 

Some religions rose above religion’s ugly endorsement of slavery; most did not.  Quakers in the 1850s fought slavery in the United States, as is shown in Stowe’s story. Some Quaker households became a refuge for runaway slaves.

At bottom, Stowe shows commerce and greed are pillars of slavery.  The farmers, businesses, and industrialists that strove to improve their bottom line directly or indirectly abetted slavery, just as the temptation of cheap labor in China and India seduce today’s American entrepreneurs and consumers. 

More broadly, one realizes human nature is good and evil.  Most members of society succumb to temptation in life.  No human is purely good or evil but a mixture. Human nature blurs the line between right and wrong because every human is tempted by money, power, and/or prestige.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is as relevant today as it was in the 1850s.

AN INNER COMPASS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Jane Eyre
By Charlotte Bronte
Narrated by Lucy Scott

CHARLOTTE BRONTE (ENGLISH NOVELIST AND POET, 1816-1855)

The story of “Jane Eyre” is an example of someone who relies on reason and moral certainty to believe and act on what is right, and to live decently. “Jane Eyre” replays the tautology of “life is not fair; i.e., it just is”.

In this era of “click bait” media, we can easily lose our way. The difference between a lie and truth is harder to recognize when bombarded by viral postings on the internet. We need to remind ourselves-there is no correlation between popularity and truth.

The author, Charlotte Bronte, captures life’s joy and hardship. The story emphasizes the importance of having a moral “inner compass” to guide one to choose between right and wrong. By making right choices, fulfillment comes from working through good and bad things in life.

Jane is an orphaned girl raised by an uncaring Aunt that feels burdened by her filial obligation. The orphaned girl directly confronts her Aunt’s resentment. To escape further confrontation and embarrassment, the Aunt boards Jane Eyre in an indigent’s school.

Jane Eyre is formally educated.  She becomes a teacher at the school. Later, she is hired by a wealthy landowner to tutor a young girl that is alleged to be the landowner’s illegitimate daughter. The wealthy landowner is revealed as a man with too many secrets who covets Jane Eyre’s mind and body. Jane Eyre, driven by her inner compass, flees to endure new hardship and temptation.

At the end, Jane Eyre returns to merry the wealthy landowner. She finds him blind, chastened, and older, but still in love with the Jane Eyre he had hired as his daughter’s tutor.

An ever present refrain in “Jane Eyre” is that all life decisions and actions have consequences. The many themes that run through Charlotte Bronte’s book are what make it a classic.

Every listener will identify with some part of Charlotte Bronte’s story. The audio version of “Jane Eyre” is a tribute to Charlotte Bronte’s story telling skill.

In the 21st century, an inner moral compass is needed to offset the blizzard of falsehood disseminated by a largely unregulated internet. Social media hides behind a distorted understanding of the meaning of free speech. Free speech in America has always been conditionally defined.

Peter Thiel (Trump supporter who believes fact checking of Facebook postings is an attack on the Constitutional Right of free speech.)

Unregulated free speech spreads hatred. People are seduced into believing truth is defined by social media’ clicks. Notoriety is as important as popularity or truth.

The next mass murder or school shooting lays at the doorstep of unregulated free speech.

HUMAN FRAGILITY

Though cultures around the world are different, honesty and respect level cultural differences, and reveal how human justice is universal.

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Passage to India
By E. M. Forster

Narrated by Sam Dastor

E. M. FORSTER (ENGLISH NOVELIST 1879-1970)

Considered by some to be one of the best novels ever written, “A Passage to India” exposes human fragility.  The story is beautifully narrated by Sam Dastor but the poetry of E. M. Forster’s writing shines best in its reading.

Published in 1924, “A Passage to India” is a primer on colonialism, ethnocentrism, and discrimination. 

Forster shows human nature is immutable and omnipresent, a force of good and evil.

Forster introduces Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian physician, Cyril Fielding, a British school master who teaches at a college for Indians, Mrs. Moore, the mother of a British magistrate governing India, and Adela Quested, a school teacher considering engagement to the British magistrate.  There are many more characters, but these four characters exemplify the best and worst of being human.  They carry the principle thread of life and what it means to be human.

History is replete with stories of nations, governments, leaders, and corporations that believe they know best for those they dominate.  Because self-interest (a lauded and reviled quality of human beings) pervades society, it distorts nations’, governments’, and corporations’ actions and decisions.

In the early the 20th century, the British govern India’s people by imposing their own vision of what is best for India.  The British leadership is convinced that their culture is superior to India’s; not unlike America’s belief that Anglo/American culture is superior to American Indian culture in centuries past and present.

When Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore ask to meet local Indians, a British city collector arranges a party for newcomers to India to meet locals.

The party is depicted as a crashing bore by British wives who gather on one side of the dance floor, demean Indian dress, habit, and intelligence.  On the other side of the floor, Indian wives wish they were somewhere else.  The British city collector mingles with Indian leaders as a duty of office. The city collector feels he offers high recognition; first, by inviting Indian guests and then by crossing the floor to say hello.

Ethnocentrism is clearly pictured in Forster’s book. The newcomers to India, Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested, feel they are not seeing the real India at the party. They suggest a visit to an Indian household. 

Cyril Fielding, an admirer of Indian culture, suggests an outing be arranged for Mrs. Moore, Ms. Quested, and Dr. Aziz.  Fielding offers the idea of a visit to ancient caves outside of town. 

Arrangements are made for the next day.  In exploring the caves, Ms. Quested and Dr. Aziz are separated from Mrs. Moore.  Ms. Quested enters a cave by herself; she feints and thinks she has been assaulted.  Dr. Aziz is arrested. 

In the course of a trial for the alleged assault, discrimination is on display.  Ms. Quested is faced with great pressure from her British compatriots to verify details of the assault. She realizes she has made a false accusation and recants. Dr. Aziz is vindicated.

The ugliness of colonialism (cultural domination), ethnocentrism, and discrimination is exemplified in Forster’s beautifully crafted story.

Thankfully, the characters of Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Ms. Quested give a sliver of hope for mankind’s redemption, a hope for cultural respect and truth.  Though cultures around the world are different, honesty and respect level cultural differences, and reveal how human justice is universal.

BUSINESS IN AMERICA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Jungle

By: Upton Sinclair

Narrated by Casey Affleck

UPTON SINCLAIR, JR. (1878-1968, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION)

UPTON SINCLAIR, JR. (1878-1968, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION)

It seems appropriate to revisit Sinclair’s book in light of the current administration in Washington D.C.

In the era of Trump, it is not meat packing but the coal industry that needs help. Trump’s pandering to the American coal miner offers air without oxygen to an industry that is dying.

Private industry and the American government need to step in and offer a way out for coal industry’ laborers. The Trump administration undervalues American labor by presuming laborers can only be cogs in a machine rather than complete human beings.

Instead of insisting on continuing an industry destined to fail, private industry and government should be offering living-wage transition, and education for new jobs; i.e. jobs that look to a future rather than a past.

Sinclair exposes the dark side of poverty and immigration in the United States.  It reminds one of Charles Dickens’ stories of child labor in London but does not offer much warmth or balance.  Sinclair’s story offers no respite from utter degradation.  There is no respite for the reader to believe there is any redemption for being poor in Chicago in the early 1900s.

“The Jungle” is a grim tale written by Upton Sinclair about the meat-packing industry in early 20th century America.

MEAT PACKING INSPECTORS (1900, STOCKYARDS, CHICAGO)

Lessons of “The Jungle” are reminders of the limits of unregulated capitalism, industry’ greed, and government neglect.  Sinclair attacks the meat-packing industry of the 1900’s. 

Descriptions are given of spoiled meat ground into sausages; loaded with chemicals for appearance and smell, with too much production to be adequately inspected by too few inspectors. Employees lose limbs and lives in accidents; with corporate lawyers preparing to swindle the uneducated with unfair financial settlements.  Wages are too low to offer enough money for shelter and food; let alone any savings, to break the cycle of poverty.  Promotion is limited to those who are willing to compromise their morality by feeding a corrupt system that thrives on human exploitation.

Herbert Hoover is the 31st President of the U. S. when the meat packing industry is at its worst. Like Herbert Hoover, Trump seems to think the strong survive and the poor deserve their fate.

To some, this is the same as today’s stories of the coal industry.

Don Blankenship (Former CEO of the 6th largest coal company in the U.S., Massey Energy)

Convicted on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards in 2015. Sentenced to 1 year in prison and fined $250,000.

HOMELESS

Images of poverty and what it leads to are still seen in American cities; i.e. people living on the street, begging for a dollar to eat; some drinking the dollar away at a local tavern because it blunts the pain of being poor and offers a haven from a cold winter day. Young people, some children, turning tricks to survive; selling their body because low paying jobs of high volume/low price conglomerates do not pay enough for rent and food.

Hearing of the meat industry–its lax government oversight, greedy corporate owners, and corrupt politicians deeply offends American ideals.  Grinding poverty changes a family of ambitious immigrants into cogs in a meat butchering machine that breaks spirits and turns good people into bums and latent criminals.

In Dickens novels, there are some remnants of human joy; even in impoverished London.  In Sinclair, the only glimmer of light is small-scale concern for fellow human beings.  The early days of the union movement offer some hope.  However, even Sinclair’s positive sentiments are corrupted by politics.  Sinclair idealizes socialism and touches on early communism.

America still offers the best known vehicle for freedom in a regulated democracy.

Since 1789, America’s relationship to immigrants has been a work in progress.

The United States has a growing need for younger workers; not to the extent of countries like Japan, but after 2020 it is increasingly important.

America needs more youth to re-balance its economic growth.

The influx of immigrants generated much of America’s success in the industrial age. Immigrants offer the same opportunity for America in the tech age.

To some immigrants, the avenue out of poverty is crime and immorality, but that has always been true in America’s history. That is why American democracy is founded on rule-of-law. Human nature does not change.

The life cycle for an honest immigrant is grim; arriving poor; staying poor, and dying.  American Presidents who only focus on the business of business fail to understand or care about the trials of the poor, the newly arrived immigrant, or the social condition of impoverished communities.

Every country in the world benefits and suffers from the nature of man and the effects of urbanization; none offer Eden.  America remains a land of opportunity, but to close our doors to those who want to improve their lives with freedom and honest work is an unconscionable mistake.  Demographics are destiny. America’s and many post-industrial economy’s populations need help.

Modern America is not quite so dark but inequality of opportunity still plagues capitalism with wealth, greed, and political corruption hiding the dire condition of the poor.

As long as the poor remain hidden; the rich and middle class will avert their eyes, mutter “get a job”, and think the poor get what they deserve.

America is Constitutionally responsible for the welfare of its citizens.

Those who think the business of government is only business are incorrect. Business is a tool to use in forming a more perfect union; governing with justice, supporting domestic tranquility, providing for a common defense, and promoting the general welfare.

PARODY OF LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Babbitt

Babbitt

Written by: Sinclair Lewis

Narration by:  Grover Gardner

SINCLAIR LEWIS (1885-1951 AMERICAN NOVELIST-FIRST TO RECEIVE THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE)
SINCLAIR LEWIS (1885-1951 AMERICAN NOVELIST-FIRST TO RECEIVE THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE)

Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt” is categorized as a satire, a parody of life in the early roaring twenties, but its story seems no exaggeration of a life in the 20th or 21st century.  Published in 1922, it is considered a classic.  It is said to have influenced Lewis’s award of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930.  (Lewis is the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.)  Lewis is highly praised for describing American culture.  “Babbitt” is the eighth of thirteen novels Lewis published by 1930.  Lewis creates a body of work that intimately exposes strengths and weaknesses of American democracy and capitalism.

Reader/listeners are introduced to George F. Babbitt, a man in his forties.  Babbitt is a realtor.  He is successful financially; bored, and relatively happy in his married-with-children’ life.  His best friend, Paul, is equally bored, less financially successful, but deeply unhappy in his marriage.  Paul is harried by a wife that men categorize as shrewish.  Babbitt’s best friend chooses to cheat on his wife.  When Babbitt finds Paul in a clandestine meeting at a Chicago restaurant, he waits for him at a hotel to try to understand what is happening.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIM (Lewis writes a satiric vignette where women are rarely viewed as equal to men, and expected to forgive men for violent treatment.)

In a male-bonding moment Babbitt forgives Paul and agrees that his friend’s wife is a shrew.  Babbitt offers to mislead the betrayed wife by lying about her husband’s out-of-town business trip.  Later, the spurned wife argues with Paul.  Paul responds by shooting her in the shoulder.  Babbitt sticks by his friend; even when he is convicted and sentenced to prison for three years.

After a year of his friend’s incarceration, Babbitt tries to get the spurned wife to forgive her husband and petition the parole board to release Paul early.  She neither forgives nor forgets.  She chastises Babbitt for his deluded belief that her husband deserves any leniency.  This seems a satirical vignette where women are rarely viewed as equal to men, and expected to forgive men for violent treatment.

INFIDELITY
Babbitt, Lewis’ anti-hero, deludes himself with the idea that another sexual relationship in his life is his right, and that it will not hurt anyone.

In his mid-forties Babbitt is becoming more restless.  He rationalizes infidelity and discounts the value of his wife and family.  He chooses to cheat on his wife because he feels his wife does not understand him.  Babbitt deludes himself with the idea that another sexual relationship in his life is his right, and that it will not hurt anyone. One may presume this is another satirical vignette.  On the other hand, how many men and women rationalize their way to extra marital affairs today?

Lewis, through his characters, infers there is a struggle for fair, if not equal treatment, in women.  In “Babbitt”, Lewis never gives women a role as superiors or equals that have intellectual interests in government, society, or culture.  Rather, Babbitt suggests women often feign interest in a man’s thoughts for the desire of companionship, attention, and affection.

GENDER INEQUALITYBabbitt implies women rarely seek intellectual stimulation or sexual gratification.  Men are shown to classify women as shrewish because they are pushing husbands to be more expressive and attentive. There are many ways of interpreting Lewis’s intent but this is not an exaggerated satire, it is a truth of many men’s view of women.

WOMEN AND THE LADDER TO SUCCESS
An underlying theme in “Babbitt” is the inequality of American capitalism.  Women and most minorities are less equal because they are either not in the work force, or in the work force at a lower wage.

An underlying theme in “Babbitt” is the inequality of American capitalism.  Women and most minorities are less equal because they are either not in the work force, or in the work force at a lower wage.  The union movement is struggling for recognition in the 1920s because of low wages being paid by business owners.  Lewis suggests Babbitt begins to modify his opinion about the labor movement as he becomes entangled in the lives of less successful Americans like Paul and his spurned lover.

Wealthy capitalist see the answer to the union movement is electing a business President that cracks down on unions.  Capitalists who have money and power classify the union movement as anarchic, communist, or socialist.  (This sounds familiar today.)  Babbitt suspects there is something wrong when he sees some union supporters are from the educated class.  What makes Lewis’s observations fascinating is that they are written when America is in the midst of the roaring twenties; before the 1929 Wall Street’ crash. In the early 1920s, capitalism seems to be a tide raising all boats when in fact it is a torpedo being readied for launch.

Trump Cartoon About Unions
Wealthy capitalist see the answer to the union movement is electing a business President that cracks down on unions.

Babbitt experiences peer pressure that causes him to recant any perceived support of union sympathizers and eventually returns to the fold of do-nothing conservatism.  He recants his libertine ways and returns to hearth and home. But Lewis offers a twist by having Babbitt’s son shock the family by rebelling against standards of upper middle class life.  He decides to marry without the blessings of his family or his church.  George F. Babbitt is the only family member who whole heartedly supports his son’s unconventional act.

Babbitt writes in the midst of a burgeoning American industrial revolution.  It seems what happened in the 1920s is similar to what is happening today.  The industrial revolution is now the technology revolution; women are still undervalued, many Americans want a business President elected, and unions are being busted.  Today’s young men and women are still breaking social conventions.  The stage seems set.  One hopes 2018 is not America’s roaring twenties; pending another economic crash.