Books in Profile; Two Angry Men; WNYC
Presenting books in profile your City Station's Peabody Award-winning series. Our hosts for these programs are the noted critics, Virgilia Peterson and Harding Lemay. Here now to open this evening's transcribed discussion is Miss Peterson. The very existence of human society seems to provoke some people so much that they have to react violently to it one way or the other. There used to be the simple clear-cut issue of the privileged and the under-privileged. Rebellion in an hour of literature used to be carried out by the downtrodden against those who tried on them. But in our time, the issue is especially among younger writers appear to be far more complicated. We have among writers on both sides of the sea, so-called Angry Men. That is, writers who write out a protest. But what are they protesting against, or for? I must admit right now that I for one find it hard to figure it out. Mr. Lemay, on the other hand, who belongs to this same generation, may be able to understand them. Two books, one English and the other American, seem to typify this new state of mind. One of them is a best-seller in England, published very recently over here, called Room at the Top by a 35-year-old writer, not an aptly named John Brain.
The other is, by that most touted member of a new literary movement in San Francisco, Jack Kerawak, and it is called On the Road. Both these books have received considerable praise from the critic. You will probably want to read them. Unless you're content, as I would be, I must admit in this case, to be classified merely as an old fogey. Mr. Lemay, which of these books do you like better? Room at the Top or On the Road? I'm going to beg off that question because I like them both and I like them both for such different reasons that I don't think I'd want to choose one at the expense of the other. I'm going to pick up a point you made in your opening statement, though, because I think the clue to both these books is the feeling today that privilege is not enough and doesn't mean anything in itself, and therefore the old conflict between the under-privileged and the privilege in fiction at least, and perhaps in life doesn't apply anymore. I don't see how you can possibly say that about that book by John Brain, but that's the book I want.
What is he after but privilege? He's not after privilege in the sense that he wants to have the privileges of the really upper-crust. He's after basic security actually, so he never has to be hungry, never has to go through what his parents did. Oh, come, come. And of course, he uses people in order to do this. This is a book that I think has a meaning, a superficial meaning that has nothing to do with its real character meaning underneath it. I think it's very interesting and extremely rewarding book for a man and like the cousin's book, I'm going back on old theme. I think it can very easily irritate many women, but I know what this young man goes through because I see it all the time, and I think it's a remarkable depiction of it. In other words, you don't think that he wants privileges when he wants an Ashley Martin sports car and a sulca dressing gown and a very luxurious blonde with a Rivera sunburn. I don't think those are the things he wants because of themselves. He has a great ambition to deny what he came from to deny that awful mill town he was brought up in, and these are the symbols that will help him to deny this. This is what Joe Lampton, this man that we're picking on, says, or at least that I'm picking on, says about himself.
The other evening I found a photo of myself taken shortly after I came to live at Warley. The story is when he is living at Warley. My hair is plastered into a skull cap. My collar doesn't fit and the knot of my tie held in place by a hideous pin shaped like a dagger is far too small. That doesn't matter. For my face is not innocent exactly but unused. I mean unused by sex, by money, by making friends and influencing people. Hardly touched by any of the muck once forced to wade through to get what one wants. Yes, now what one... It's a good start. It's a good book. You can't help disliking him from that paragraph right on. You dislike him. Very much. Oh, it's not interesting. I don't dislike him. I don't like opportunists anyway. Well, I know, and I don't think any of us do, but I don't think we can catalog people so easily into mere opportunists and mere non-opportunists. That this man is also being used by other people in this book, particularly by the older woman who seems to be his victim. He's supplying her for things that she can't get anywhere else, so he's what she wants.
Well, that's a rather dangerous remark. He's supplying her with love. She had had it from other people. She could probably get it again. He's super. He's not doing anything for anybody. Well, when that's face it, he's working for himself. Well, he's working for himself through himself. The use of his body, his brains, everything he's got is being put to use to make him into the kind of person that he can be in denial of his parents. And there's a very interesting scene when the girl who he marries at the end of the book. When her father comes to talk to him and he said, my father, the boy says, my father would turn over in his grave if he saw me eating at this restaurant. And the older and very rich man said, so would mine, Laddy. And there's a combined thing in here, I think, of the old man we've always admired who got ahead by sheer force of energy and industry very often. And this doesn't apply in a socialistic or semi-socialistic state anymore. The industry is not going to give this boy what he wants and what this girl's father got. And he's trying to say that it doesn't matter anymore whether one works for a decent objective or a mean one.
That the only way to get anywhere is to grab women and try to advance through them, not come. No, no, I'm not saying this matters for me. And I'm trying not to judge either one of these books personally because I cannot live the way either one of these men or at least these characters seem to live. But it seems to me that we have to understand that this is what many young men are facing today. Do I become, does one become the man in the grave flannel suit or a vagrant in the catawack book, for instance? Is that the choice? I think that's the choice most young men have today. Why? The only choice. Well, what about all the things in which one can serve humanity as well as making one's own way and supporting a family? What about all the dignified opportunities and occupations that are available? Because you can hardly subsist on them. I know that from personal experience where I had a job in the public library that I enjoyed very much but I couldn't support my family by it. But I can support my family either, try as I will, but I still think that one can manage to keep a roof over people's head and keep them fed and without making choices such as these. But that's not enough, really, just to keep a roof over the head.
And I think that's what room at the top is talking about. That this boy really wants to be able to say, and he's wrong, and he knows he's wrong. But he really wants to be able to say, I don't have to worry about ever being poor again. I don't have to worry. Now this is a terrible thing in itself. But I think that you've misjudged the book in a way because you've assumed that the author is not making the point you're making. He is. He's showing this man as an illustration of a dreadful thing. Yes, but he is accepting your thesis that that is the only choice and I don't accept it for a moment. It is for this boy, really. I don't see why. I think perhaps more so in England than it would be in this country where the class consciousness is much stronger and has been. It's beginning to break now, perhaps. The fact that this boy can move from where he started to where he is at the end of the book when he's looking back on things. He hasn't moved morally much. Well, there are other ways of moving, perhaps. I don't think they have very much significance. Look at what he does with his friend in the way of planning about what kind of women to go after. Charles and I once worked out a grading scheme for women, having noticed that the more money a man had, the better looking was his wife.
The grades corresponded naturally with the income of husband or fiance, running from grade 1 for millionaires and film stars and dictators. Anyone with an income of over 20,000 pounds, in fact, to grade 12 for those under 350 pounds and not likely to get any more. So then he goes after a grade 2 girl because grade 1, he really doesn't get a chance to meet. But grade 2 is grade 1 in the town of Warley. I think you're taking seriously something which is meant as a kind of post-adolescence humor, really. I think most men have gone through this kind of easy classification of the ideal woman. But most men shed that with adolescence. This one went right on until he had put this girl in trouble until the father had to allow them to marry for the sake of the dude. Yes, but the thing is that this boy is still very young. He's only 25. Well, I think men in this culture of ours which puts a premium on physical activity and heroism of a different kind, certainly not moral heroism. Dude, get delayed in their growing up.
I'd like to go on with that grade 10 thing because I think he makes his point about the fact that Susan, the other young girl, is a princess. And he says, and that's how it is in all the fairy stories. The princess is always beautiful and lives in a golden palace and wears fine clothes and rich jewels and eats chicken and strawberries and cakes made from honey. And even if she has bad luck and has to go on to work with the kitchen, the prince always spots her because she's left an expensive ring in the cake she's baked for him. And the qualifications for the princess are made beautifully clear. I think he has a legitimate protest against the class. And when he was trying to undermine the reserves and let us say, frankly, the virtue of this princess, he says to himself, as he's making love to her, I was maneuvering for position all the time, noting the effect of each word. And it seemed to devalue everything I said. I think he's a disgusting little prig and snob. I think that he's aware of these limitations and failures within himself if you want to call it that. And the thing that interests me about this book is that it is in a way an analysis of deficiency that the boy himself is aware of his deficiency.
He doesn't even have the comfort of conceit. He doesn't have the comfort of saying, I did the best I could. For me, makes the very last sentence in that, a remarkable summary of the whole book, when his friends say, oh, you're not the blame, Joe, it's not your fault. And he says, oh, my God, that's the trouble. I think this is an extremely moral book that it should be his fault. People should say it's your fault if you do the wrong things in our society, but we're also tolerant. Indeed, indeed, I agree with that, but I don't think Mr. Brain manages to make that point really clear, because I think that he thinks that everybody has to be like that as a reaction to the violence of the preceding age. He has somewhere in the book in the love affair with the married woman that Joe Lapton has Alice says there's blood on everyone's hands, everything is violence. And I don't know whether the author isn't trying to say there.
Yes, if he is, he's merely repeating and putting into other terms what Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre and France have been saying for some time. This is an extension of the existentialist idea of man, of course. But again, it's blaming something outside. It's not taking responsibilities so you blame the violence. But we're beginning becoming trained and conditioned not to take individual responsibility anymore. That's why all these friends of his who should know better say it's not your fault and you weren't to blame. You see what's irritating about this man is that as you say he knows it's his fault in a way. He knows what he is. He knows he's greedy and scheming and selfish and small potatoes, but he doesn't go any further. It's like the person who's been psychoanalyzed and says I know I'm going to behave like a devil and then goes right ahead and behaves like a devil and feels all right because he knows what he's doing. I don't agree with you. I think this book is written from in a recollective sense. The man is looking back on himself as someone who before he did these things was all right. But now he says...
Now he's all right because he's got a rich papa in him. No, he's not all right. He can't stand himself. He says that he's dead in a way but he hasn't died yet. As a matter of fact, he said I wouldn't say that I was dead simply that I had begun to die. And this is the result of these things he did in 10 years earlier, actually, that he has not lived as a human being at peace with himself since then. So there's a great moral judgment within this book. I don't think Karawak has the moral judgment. I'll agree with you. I think when we go to Karawak but I do think in brain that there is a moral judgment. He's illustrating a very city kind of situation and kind of person. It's a moral judgment pronounced on the history of our times, if you like, but I don't think it's pronounced on Joe Lapton. Oh, I think so. Because Joe says I saw quite clearly that there were no dreams and no mercy left in the world, nothing but a storm of violence. Well, there are dreams and there is mercy and there's a great deal more beside the violence. Well, I think both of us are saying in a way almost the same thing you from one end of the Paris-Gome Review vision, me from the other. Well, it seems to me that we're both saying that this man should be ashamed of himself.
I won't go so far as to say the author should be ashamed of this having produced this man because I think it's a vivid illustration of something that's terribly prevalent today that young people just don't know where their limitations are. I think this starts with kids with babies. Go right up through our 20 and 30, my generation, if you will, where no one's ever said, look, you don't do that. Or if you do do that, they say, well, it's not your fault. It's mama, it's puppets. I know. I know. I agree with you. Well, I think this book illustrates that. It's just possible, Mr. Lemay, that I'm a snob in my own way and that I can't bear to read about a snob on another level. I wouldn't haul him a snob. Yes, it was. You looked over everybody in Worley to see who were the right people to get near and he was continually preoccupied with getting to the right party and getting into the right group and the right street. You're using snob and a snob in the way I normally use it. Not intellectual snob, social snob. But Kerrowack, of course, is the philosopher of irresponsibility.
He tries to make Anarchy into a system. I mean, as far as he's concerned, I have much less use for him, even the brain, because I think on the road is not only horribly tiresome in its Anarchy, but it's also a bad book. There's nothing but a litany with a lot of ridiculous language thrown in, the gone beat, hung up, generation, and listening to Bob and going out for kicks and kicks is the only thing. He makes a mistake out of kicks. I think he has to, in a way, from where he starts within his philosophy and his book, say that nothing else is supplied to us and therefore we look for the kicks. Going back to my theme again, this is a reflection of what is wrong, particularly in this country. If we're going to face the newspaper headlines about the teenagers and the Marlon Brando, James Dean image that our youngsters seem to have of themselves as restless people outlooking for some way to kick up some excitement, then we have to face the fact that we do not supply them any alternative to this. We supply them with plenty of excitement. What about Sputnik rushing up in the sky and all the problems that there are in the world, you'd think that they would find something to chew on.
I think waiting for them to find it is a little too much to expect from anyone today. I think they have to be guided into it. Everybody used to find what it was that excited about themselves. They didn't find that you know good teachers and good parents and a cultural sympathy toward looking for something that you achieved something in. It would be much stronger than it is today. I know more people who are introduced to me who are shocked because I'm making as low a salary I am doing something I like rather than making them three times as much money doing something I couldn't stand. Those are just the wrong people that you know. Now this again though is within this generation of the 35 year old, if we want to call them that, you will find these sour paradises in the Dean Moriarty very often who are very bright young men. This is what really appalls me about them that if they wanted to be teachers, if they wanted to use this need for identity and this need for philosophy in a concrete way they could. What do they they wander back and forth throughout the country? Well, not wander rush at 110 miles an hour and stolen cars getting drunk on the waste most disorderly for an elderly lady is the most untidy story I've ever read in my life. And it's so exhausting that you can hardly bear it for those people and they all have something that matter with them. They even have to smoke weeds which I take it as marijuana.
They have to do everything to keep going. They take benzadrine at the drop of the hat. They have one of the people who took drugs so much and that was not one of the young ones but an older man in his 50s or 60s. Well, that was another one outside New Orleans. Yes, one of their buddies. They obviously have their friends all along the line. They can stop in and get drinks and dope and everything else. But I did not find this either an unsympathetic book. Well, now look, Dean Moriarty, the character for whom Sal paradise the hero, the narrator at least has so much respect. This is what he says at one point when they're driving along the great roads of America. We passed a little kid who was throwing stones at the cars in the road. Think of it, said Dean. One day he'll put a stone through a man's windshield and the man will crash and die all on account of that little kid. You see what I mean? God exists without qualms. Oh, I think this is a book you can't do that with. I don't think you can take a little sentence out of it. God, you can! That's just where the heaps of Achilles is. It's absolutely crawling with heaps of Achilles. God does not exist without qualms.
He's given us free will and the possibility of qualms in our own consciousness. Well, then you're philosophically right at the opposite of Mr. Kerrowack's position anyway. I think this is a tremendous denial of free will. Yes, and I don't see anyone in their right minds can deny free will. It's just a sick thing to do because there's evidence of it all along the way from birth to death. Well, there's not any evidence of free will and choice as a matter of fact. The fact that you're born a boy or a girl or into whichever family you're born in whichever condition, so that the whole free will question in this starts with a tremendous compromise. You didn't choose the thing that gives you the ability to choose. Well. You don't have this kind of free will. If you were except any limitations of choice. Well, now, this is what I think Kerrowack is saying that as a matter of fact, I admire him more for this choice. This young cell of parodies who's a writer who wants to find out about people. Then I would admire him for a choice of living in Westchester County and observing his next door neighbors and writing another book about the exorbitites. I really think this is closer to the people who don't read and aren't the great movers and shakers perhaps of our culture.
But it is closer to the gas room attendance. They're busy all day. They don't live like this. This is just a bunch of waste rolls, parasites on the land. Don't offer a lot of them, I think. I don't think there can be because they live on borrowed time and on stealing. Borrow money. How can there be that many people our society couldn't afford to support them? And actually, you ought to agree with me about this. Even if you pretend you don't, Mr. LeMade, because it goes right back to your argument in the brain book. Sal Paradise himself says, nothing in this lousy world is my fault. Don't you see that? I don't want it to be and it can't be and it won't be. Well, I refuse responsibly. Well, when he says nothing in this lousy world is his fault, I agree with him. It's not. There's no more collective fault or collective guilt than there is collective responsibility for the good things. But then you don't believe where our brothers keep us. Oh, I'm afraid I think we're our own keepers. And my brother is his keeper.
And I think it's very important that these books are both based in this thing that you start with you. I think that the quote from the On the Road, which does mean something in relation to these, I call them sick as you do too, I'm sure, but I don't call them sick with antagonism toward them. I call them sick with a great pity that they don't use the things within themselves that are worth using. But I think, again, this is a vivid illustration of something that's sick. Not about them so much is about our whole culture, our whole materialistic culture. And I think they're protesting it like mad. I think they're protesting it in the wrong way. Well, it's a hopeless way to protest. But I'd much rather have the wrong protest than no protest at all. You mean you'd rather have a college boy who was a perfectly good maiden aunt in Paterson, New Jersey. Grab the money from a leave. But he paid her back. I was very interested. I didn't think he would. The other one paid her back $15. Yes. Well, I think that's what an answer considered. But he totals out to San Francisco and he totals back again and he stops in the Denver, Colorado and all along the way, it's only a question of which girls he can shack up with.
No, that's not what drinks he can get. That's not the only question because underneath all this is what has made people compare me to Thomas Woolf. I'm sure. And that is a curiosity about children, old people, vagrants, the underdogs if you want to put in that. Not the secure people at all. But I don't think Thomas Woolf was preoccupied necessarily with vagrants. He was preoccupied with Asheville, North Carolina, and the class he came from. And his first book only. Yes, but then also in his second book. Well, as he began to grow out and wander himself all over the globe. He was preoccupied with the American scene, but Carrowack is a pretty pale imitation of the Woolf- I don't think there's any imitation of him at all. I don't think he has much to do with him. I did like a quote from the book, which says, I like too many things and get all confused and hung up running from one falling star to another until I drop. I had nothing to offer anybody except my confusion. Which I think is what this book is, his confusion. And it's valid confusion. I don't think it's pretty.
I don't think it's pleasant. I wouldn't want to live with it. I wouldn't even want to know it, perhaps. But I do think it exists, and I think that it's symptomatic of so many other things. But they take tremendous satisfaction in the fact that they're confused and that they're making a mess of everything. They haven't got a pang of guilt. They haven't got the slightest anxiety to get on the track and to get hold of a banister and follow a path to set us together. They marry and leave women having little babies in all sorts of places, and they never show up again. And they don't care what happens to the babies. I think that's terrifically dreadful. But still, I think it exists, and it's symptomatic of a great general confusion about who are our responsibilities, and why should I do something from nine to five that I can't stand doing, and I could be wondering out across the country, who cares if my aunt has to pay for? It's a feeling I think these people have. But you got to be able to stand, do what you can't stand doing, because that is what life is made up of. Well, I think this is a choice that some of us don't have to make. I know I haven't, and I doubt very much if you have, that there are things that I couldn't stand to have to do from nine to five. But I have done them when I had to support my children.
Well, I don't think they're quite what these boys would have to do. These boys don't have to do anything, because they're the parasites on our society. They're the luxury. They're absolutely no good. And the book about them is no good either. I miss Beatrice, and that's a very dogmatic statement. I know I feel extremely dogmatic about it. I've been waiting to disagree with you for a long time about a book. Well, here we are, tooth and nail. Here he says, something someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch up with us before we reached heaven. Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death. The one thing we yearn for in our living days that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nausea, I hate that phrase, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced that we hate to admit it in death. But who wants to die? Well, for all of me, I'm going to use that to make another point. Well, make it. And his favor. But we don't have time for me to make it. Really, and I would take me much longer than anyone's time for.
Now, we'll never know whether you had a point or not. You've been listening to books in profile with Virginia Peterson and Harding Lemay. Jack Kerrowacks on the road and John Brains' room at the top were the books discussed and discussed in a very animated way. We invite you to join us next Thursday evening at 8.30 for the next program in this transcribed series. We also invite you to address your comments on this evening's discussion to this program, Books in Profile, Station WNYC, New York 7.
- Books in Profile
- Two Angry Men
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- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
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- WNYC (New York, New York)
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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- The theme of this episode is "Two Angry Men." Virgilia Peterson and Harding Lemay discuss "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac and "Room at the Top" by John Braine.
- Series Description
- "Providing a stimulating insight into the world of books and people who write them, 'Books in Profile' presents a thorough analysis of latest literary trends. Conducted by two experts in the literary field, (Virgilia Peterson and Harding Lemay), the weekly program is an authoritative report on the literary scene, reflecting the changing patterns in writing. Making an important contribution to one of the oldest and vital media of communications --Books, through one of the newest --Radio, 'Books in Profile' has evoked a great deal of critical acclaim for its perceptive approach and provocative discussions."--1957 Peabody Awards entry form.
- Virginia Peterson and Harding Lemay discuss two books: Room At The Top by John Braine and On The Road by Jack Kerouac. "Two Angry Men" is the theme.
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Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Speaker: Peterson, Virgilia
Speaker: Lemay, Harding
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- MLA: “Books in Profile; Two Angry Men; WNYC.” 1957. WNYC, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-80-91sf89bm>.
- APA: Books in Profile; Two Angry Men; WNYC. Boston, MA: WNYC, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-80-91sf89bm