THIS ISN 'T a story. A grown man, unmarried, living alone, has a job. Times are good, and he has been able to get exactly the job he wants. He's a very ordinary fellow. No outlandish tastes, no drive to conquer the world. He doesn't like the subway, so he buys a secondhand Ford. He doesn't like business suits or shoes with laces, so he wears sport jackets and loafers, and these until they have holes in them. He rolls his own cigarettes because he gets a kick out of it. He likes three-dollar rye better than bonded Scotch. He reads the ads in the newspapers and magazines, and if something appeals to him, the chances are he buys it. All the people he mixes with socially are his friends. Anyone he doesn't like he avoids or tells him frankly what's wrong with him. He is saving enough money to knock off and stay in Europe for a few months, come the year after next. He plans to see the Continent on a bicycle and come home only when his money gives out, at which time he'll go back to his job if they'll have him. And if they won't, he'll find another as good, or better.
What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, except that this fellow is not part of the great American man-machine. He is immune to the bigger-and-better-every- day-in-every- way disease which infects almost every normal, adult, married male and female in the land. This mutineer, this aberrant doesn't especially care if his car is an antique. It goes. He doesn't care if his fellow workers wear pants and jackets to match. That's their business. He stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
It's a peculiar thing, but those co-workers of his admire him for his debonair disregard of convention. But let him marry and have a child or two, and attitudes will change. Should he show a lack of interest in business advancement then, or tell the boss off when he feels like it, or seem satisfied with an old car and rumpled clothes, he will be looked upon as a neurotic. And he would be a neurotic. That's the strange change a family makes.
Why? Because every normal married American man is expected to do his utmost to provide his children with a better social and economic status than was provided to him. He is expected to do his utmost to gain for his wife those conspicuous adornments which will enable her at least to equal and at best to outshine all those women of the class with which she identifies herself. It's perfectly permissible that he should not value these things for himself. But not to want them for his wife and children? That would make him a bum, literally.
All this is simply to emphasize the importance of both the idea and the reality of the family to American industrial activity, and especially to the industrial activity that slick-magazine advertising concerns itself with. Pick up any popular magazine and consider how many of the ads apply to single men and women who do not plan to marry and raise children. I, personally, have made a space count with an issue chosen at random. Seventy-six percent of the ad lineage would not apply. The grand and obvious lesson to be learned is that the family as an institution is more sacred to slick editors and to the manufacturers who pay their salaries than either church or country. Consequently, the family is a prime subject for fictional handling-so long as its integrity is never slighted or its unity destroyed. All this in preface to a very important story-type.
A husband, pushing into middle-age, wakes one morning to find he can't tolerate his wife or his children. Something has come over him. He doesn't know what. He knows only that he must get away for a while. He phones his office that he won't be in and goes off to a nearby, but strange town. With an ability to draw which he developed at college he gets a job as a draftsman that same morning. He takes the young secretary in the office out to lunch, gets himself a furnished room for which he pays a full week's rent in advance, meets a boy on the street who is crying and fixes his sled. These things-the new job, the new home, the young secretary, the little boy-he has all enjoyed. But then as the day goes on he suspects that what he enjoyed in them is precisely what he enjoyed in his old job, his old home, his wife and his children. He takes a train home, arriving just at the time he would have arrived from work. Everything has t aken on the old warm values once more. That's an easy one, one in which the disaffection is in. tangible. More often the problem is quite concrete. A young woman, happily married, gets a letter from the world-famous composer and pianist who taught her to play the piano when she was in college. He is coming to her town to give a concert. Could he stay with her and her husband? She is delighted. She remembers the deep romantic impression he made on her when she was in her teens. Would it be the same again? Might she not fall back in love with him, and he with her? When he does come, they are conveniently left alone by the husband. The composer confesses that he loves her still. But she doesn't seem to know her heart. She knows she loves her husband-in a certain solid, unromantic way. Could she be in love with two men? She waits, she watches them both. Then seeing her children and the home she has built up around them and her husband, she realizes it was only an infatuation, even if a particularly glamorous one, she felt for the composer.
Stories such as this and the preceding one are quite often subdued pastels without much climax or dramatic movement. But take this other-woman piece. Its author was walking on thin ice.
The husband, successful, responsible, father of two children, is married to a young woman who emotionally is still a child . She is not ill willed, merely incompetent. As a result, the husband must do both his job and his wife's. Into this chaotic household comes a baby-sitter, a single , young ex-teacher. She seems to be everything to the childre n nd the father that the wife isn't. She and the father fall deeply in love with each other. But, after much heartbreak, she decides she must leave him. Out of a sense of duty to his children, he accepts her decision.
This is what in Hollywood they call a down-beat story (in contrast to an up-beat, or happy-ending opus). The author really extended himself to show that the married man and the baby-sitter were meant for each other. Then he pulled them apart-to no character's satisfaction, and almost not to the reader's. The story did achieve a certain poignant effect; but the moral, the point, the message, was that the family unit must be maintained at all costs.