The Company Is Not Responsible by Mary McCarthy, 1944
The magic trick:
Finding solace in something that is typically used for satire and social critique
It’s so easy to be cynical, especially when it comes to the way people interact. Today’s “Everyone is too busy with their screens to have an actual human interaction!” is the “And the bus stations are so crowded!” of McCarthy’s 1944, showcased in today’s SSMT feature.
But a funny thing happens on the way to the complaint department.
This story takes the madness of humans interacting and doesn’t get cynical; it finds a brightness. The people in this story are in fact the silver lining to the World War II cloud.
And that’s quite a trick on McCarthy’s part.
Everything, I thought, is turned into a lark: the missed connections, the long lines of people waiting in the diner, the hotels that have no accommodations, the standingroom-only on the trains. And yet there is always the detestable person, the woman in the Japanese mink coat who pushes to the front of the line, the obnoxious drunk, the man who sends the lamb chop back a second and a third time, the family party, complete with redcap, that preempts somebody else’s taxi in the ramp at Grand Central. But on this bus there was nothing like that, no trouble, though once or twice, for an instant, I had heard the old alarm sound in my brain: “Now it is going to begin again, the disagreeableness, the bad part.” An obscure quarrel had got under way between the sailor and the machinist’s mate—some caste rivalry—and then the question had arisen: which had seen more action? The sailor (unbelievable, now, in this warm, smoky bus) had been torpedoed twice. And again, the sailor, telling Margie about his experiences training at Hanover, New Hampshire, had been interrupted jeeringly by the Harvard boys: “That boys’ school in Hanover—you don’t mean Dartmouth, by any chance?” But on both occasions it had passed off. The snobbery of rank, the snobbery of heroism, the snobbery of class had no place here; in our situation we could not afford them. We were together, in amity.
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