He stopped and turned away angrily to light his
cigar. "Women ought to be free--as free as we are," he
declared, making a discovery of which he was too
irritated to measure the terrific consequences.
"He" is Newland Archer, whose life the book follows from the year immediately preceding his marriage, in the Gilded Age of New York, through the 1920s. Newland charms me, amuses me, angers me by turns. In reflecting on his own comment later, he realizes some of the absurdities folded into his earlier assertion:
"Nice" women, however wronged, would
never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous-
minded men like himself were therefore--in the heat of
argument--the more chivalrously ready to concede it
to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only a
humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that
tied things together and bound people down to the old
This tiny moment of reflection, as it turns out, encapsulates Archer's entire character arc. He considers himself daring and forward-thinking, in rebellion against the customs of his tribe, but he is essentially too weak even to conceive of a life beyond its strictures. Even when he briefly seeks to reject it, the only way he can find is yet another path well-trodden and explored by his cohort. He is asleep, and doesn't have the ability or desire to waken completely and build a new way of life.
These are the thoughts that pull at me--in those brief moments where we awaken to our own privilege and to the absurdity of the supposed truths our own tribes take as given, can we manage to stay awake? Can we change society? Is it possible to change these absurd assumptions from within, or is utter rejection necessary? The questions themselves may be naive, but what the hell, it's just a blog.
Books that stir thoughts that pull at me are the ones that hook me.
What's hooking you right now?