Cotton Mill Girls
in the South
(Cornell)This is officially classed as "labor history" --- but it's something more, a human document of people who work under miserable conditions to stay alive. Ms. Byerly grew up in North Carolina, worked in cotton mills --- and it was only through a fortunate ship that she was able to leave, to go to college, and return to record the oral history of twenty poor women (black white) who worked in the mills --- often from age fourteen or fifteen on. These are stories of women who come of ignorant of their rights, hope and bodies; women who have six or nine or twelve children by the time they are thirty, who don't know a life free of foul working conditions, who will develop brown lung, who will retire on disability compensation which is merely a permit to poverty. With all that, the interviews are strangely lifeless, as if Byerly didn't give her interviewees the time nor the inclination to be more open, free, and creative with their feelings and their history.
(New Directions)We are prepared to love anything that Cary sets forth for us because he created one of the great comic heroes of all time, one who stands next to Falstaff, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, or Tom Jones --- that being Gully Jimson of The Horse's Mouth. With all our affection for him, we have to tell you that the story line of A House of Children is as boring as hell. It is the tale of the growing up of Evelyn Corner --- a pseudonym, we are told, for Cary himself. Although the plot sways and creaks like a 1935 jitney, and many of the characters are but half-formed, the natural descriptions are divinely inspired: indeed, one might say that the hero of this work --- even more than Corner --- is a dark and powerful protagonist who moves and changes, frightens, delights, and weaves a web. It is the sea.
These storms seemed to trail over the water; one would have thought a group of gigantic nuns, very fat for their size, were moving across the sea, with the smooth motion of the religious, trailing their long black skirts behind them, and dragging along the breakers like cherry petals, fallen on a dark cinder path...
When the tide was up and the sun or moon shining, especially at a spring tide, the long white front of the house was in movement with reflected waves. The walls rippled with hollow curves of pigeon grey and palest yellow, a ghostly sea, which, on the tall twelve-pane windows, became so solid in color and form, gold and blue, that one seemed to be looking through the glass at actual water. The house seemed to be full of sea; until, of course, one turned round and saw the real sea so miraculously real in its metal weight and powerful motion, its burning brightness, that it startled...
It's not that the plot and the characters are bad --- Cary can never lose his art and verve in words --- it's just that they seem so shadowy, even unnecessary, incidental to the real work which is to define the seashore at Donegal where the ocean thrums through the young lives. There are fillips of wisdom from time to time, ones that might well have come out of the mouth of Gully Jimson:
The only certain distinction I can find between childhood and maturity is that children grow in experience and look forward to novelty; that old people tend to be set. This does not mean even that children enjoy life more keenly than grown-ups, they are only more eager for experience. Grown-ups live and love, they suffer and enjoy far more intensely than children; but for the most part, on a narrower front. For the average man or woman of forty, however successful, has been so battered and crippled by various accidents that he has gradually been restricted to a small compass of enterprise. Above all, he is perplexed. I think that is the reason for the special sadness of nearly all grown-up faces, certainly of all those which you respect; you read in their lines of repose, the sense that there is no time to begin again, to get things right...
(with robert anderson)
(Random House)Ever since Lee Iacocca disfigured the word "autobiography" with that dumb self-sales manual of his --- the barons of American offal have been trampling each other to expose their puny egos and obscure their misdeeds. Monaghan, founder of a dreadful eatery called Domino's Pizza, has cooked up 346 pages of fulsome praise for his Hard Knocks, Grit, Determination, and Clean Livin' Ways:
In boot camp of Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, I was appalled at the foul language our drill instructors used. It was a rude awakening for me. I wasn't a candidate for sainthood myself, but I thought that these men, who were in a position of authority, ought to be setting a good example.
Gol dern it Mister Monaghan sir, if we had known that you were going to be building your dough into a pile of dough, we would have been nicer to you. And if you had been kind enough to print it on pasta, for our $17.95 we could have baked it up and served it for supper, even though it is so heavy on the bologna and ham.
In his haste to tell us how terrific he is, Monaghan neglects to mention the fact that his net worth rests on a product that --- according to Michael Jacobsen's Fast-Food Guide --- delivers the customer less than five percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Nutritional Allowance; that two slices of Domino's Cheese Pizza contain some 800 milligrams of sodium; and if you have them lace it with sausages, olives, and anchovies, "you'll be adding more sodium than you want to think about." Further, there is no mention of the bodies these junk food corporations build their fortunes on: that is, teen-agers, faced with numbing, awful, repetitive, idiot jobs, at minimum wage; unrepresented workers who, when it is time to qualify for pay raises (if they stay that long) are quickly cashiered out. Mr. Monaghan goes on endlessly about The Golden Rule: it would be interesting to see what would happen if he actually practiced it.
(Al Mann Associates)Mann developed Cerebral Palsy in the first moments of his life and, later, learned that he was gay. Now, almost fifty years old, he has put together this story of his life. There are many anecdotes --- some having to do with working for IBM for twenty-five years (he was one of their first computer programmers); some with having CP and being an alcoholic (and getting away with it: he could blame his blind staggers on the disease); some having to do with learning to love (himself and others); the most revealing having to do with his hideous depressions --- and the therapy that pulled him out of it.
This might be titled a manual for survival, for Mann wants very much to survive and, if not, to be sure he does himself in correctly. Like the computer man he is, he outlines the facts for us:
Even when my depression was deepest, my logical mind set forth some rules about suicide. It had to work first time. (No halfway measures. I eat vegetables, I don't want to be one). It had to be painless. It had to be done so nobody else would be injured. It had to look like an accident...Did you know statistics prove a leap from the sixth floor of a building is fatal only 50% of the time? Facts like that were enough to depress me.
Like practically every other handicapped person in America, Mann developed strong tools of denial to survive the early years:
I was my parents' pride and joy and I was a major pain in the ass. They never let me think of myself as anything but normal. This attitude certainly helped me get through many a tight spot. Neither they nor I had any way of realizing that CP carries with it emotional stresses which aren't always apparent. By acting as if nothing were different about me, we increased those stresses. The consequences of ignoring my emotions didn't show up for many years. Then they almost killed me.
This can be considered a manual for like-minded souls. There are sections on handling the deepest kinds of depression (live for the next moment only), how to choose a therapist, how to problem-solve, and the best --- Mann's own solution for his depression, "psychosurgery...a Mark V, variable impedance, wide band sensitivity knob...permanently attached under my skin....It is as big as a whisper and broad as an emotion."
John Lennon, Joe Hill,
Woody Guthrie, and
(University of Tennessee)From the shameful treatment of Joe Hill to Mr. Lennon's sad end, Mr. Hampton traces the tradition of the protest song in America.
"This Land is Your Land" went through a folk process after it left Guthrie's pen and entered the public domain....Two of the more explicit political verses were eventually dropped, leaving three standard verses in the popular version....The political verses paint a...proletarianized picture:
...in the popular version, this socialist tint was carefully whitewashed away, leaving only the sentimental nationalism.
One bright shiny morning, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office, I saw my people,
As they stood there hungry, I started to whistle,
This land was made for you and me
A great high wall there tried to stop me,
Great big sign said, "Private Property,"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.
--- R. R. Doister