Saturday, January 10, 2009

Prime Passage: The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

"Breckenridge Lansing brought up his son according to a method widely advocated at the time. Its purpose was to "make a man" of him. It consisted of ridiculing the child in public and private on every occasion of his falling short in manly exercise. At five he was thrown into the water and commanded to swim. At six he was invited to play catch with his father ("The best father in the world," but all fathers are wonderful) on the lawn behind the house. Coordination of hand and eye is not fully developed at six and is further troubled by the boy's passionate and despairing attempts to be adequate. The genial games ended in tears. At seven he was given a pony; when he had fallen off it for the third time his father sold it. At nine he was introduced to the rifle. At each new trial he was overwhelmed with sneers and his failures were recounted to neighbors and postmen and delivery boys. Eustacia [the boy's mother] attempted to intervene only to be covered with similar sarcasms. Little Anne endeared herself to her father by shrieking "Sissy! Sissy!" Woeful scenes took place. Felicite paled but did not speak. When George was elected vice-captain of his school's baseball team -- only vice-captain; Roger Ashley was everywhere captain -- his father refused to speak to him for three days. Nature came to George's aid too late. At sixteen he was as tall as his father and far stronger. He was given to murderous rages. The day came when he advanced on his tormentor, holding a chair which he slowly broke in mid-air. From that hour his father loudly washed his hands of him. George was the product of his mother's mollycoddling. He would never be a Lansing."
(page 328)