A Sense of Inferiority and Self-Doubt
This is about poetry, of which my father (as everyone else in his time and place) had no interest at all. But if he was not interested in poetry, poetry was interested in him – as part of the Waste Land it was writing about.
I was a Depression baby, born in 1936, when Americans were suffering from a poverty that seemed to last forever. Their self-respect suffered greatly – and, below the surface, this loss never left them.
I underlined these passages:
His immersion in an ugly provincial town chafed constantly against his sensibility and spirit.
This was Ft. Madison, Iowa, where I was born. A railroad town where the repair yards fouled the air with their steam locomotives.
Dad could have married his Haitian girl-friend, who loved him, and gone to live in Hawaii (where a mixed marriage would have been legal). Instead he married up to a woman who did not love him, and stayed in his home town close to his mother. I will never forgive him for that – as I said in a letter to him – one of the two letters that he kept in his personal safe-box. The other was the last letter he got from his Haitian girl-friend.
Williams never stopped suffering from the difference between the American he lived in and the one his imagination strained after…Williams is always drawn to failures, to the failure of great men to find sustenance in America.
I idealized my father for much of my life, and thought of him as a great, but unrecognized man. He used enormous ingenuity making a whole-wheat mill and bakery work (where the small-town location made this impossible) – and ruined his health instead.
This happened to many men of my Father’s generation. They ended up broken men – overlooked and forgotten. Willy Loman in The Death of a Salesman was this way, as were several uncles on both sides of my family.
Dad’s best childhood friend, Ed Mckiernan, ended up this way. When he walked into my father’s memorial service, I burst into tears – something no one else could understand, since they understood nothing of the American tragedy that was being enacted in their lives.
They tried hard, but they (and their world) failed.