Sunday, February 5, 2012
The Pursuit of Happiness (1968) by Thomas Rogers
The Pursuit of Happiness was written by American novelist Thomas Rogers in 1968, and was subsequently adapted into a 1971 feature film directed by Robert Mulligan. In this post, I will cover the book's individual chapters.
This novel is dedicated to Elizabeth Vinsohaler Rogers and Thomas Hunton Rogers with the author's filial love.
There is a general assumption that the manner of a man's life is a clue to what he on reflection regards as the good - in other words happiness.
ARISTOTLE, Nichomachean Ethics I. v
Spring began with an unseasonal blizzard. Michigan City, Indiana, received a record snowfall and the South Side of Chicago was blanketed under seven inches. It was wet snow. Along 55th Street it turned to black slush and by the next day the gutters were running in streams. On that day of galoshes and rubbers and wet feet, Mrs. Thwett visited her nephew, William Popper.
Mrs. Thwett comes over to chat with her nephew, William Popper. They have some conversations about how she disapproves of the girl he's seeing, Jane Kauffmann, who is a Faulkner fan but, much to the aunt's disapproval, doesn't ever bother to clean up the place. The aunt claims Jane is unattractive, which is untrue; in fact, for the longest time, William didn't even notice her beauty until others began checking her out. They have some conversations about how William's father ought to divorce his mother, but that he shouldn't move into his own housing developments because it would be an insult to his wealth. Williams says of his father, "We have a fine relationship."
After Mrs. Thwett leaves, Jane comes over, and she and William talk about how they have no real causes to endorse. "These are reactionary times," William complains. "There aren't any good political forces to join." During their conversations, Jane begins calling William "Bill" (as Rogers writes, She called him Bill when they were making love and when they were arguing), because she's uncomfortable with his suggestions that they get married. The way William sees it, they're both 21, and not getting any younger.
Like Mrs. Thwett, Jane has some racial prejudices, although where Mrs. Thwett dislikes "Negroes," Jane dislikes Muslims.
They are interrupted by the drunken Melvin Lasher, who comes over to tell them the outline of a movie he's planning on making but then stumbles back out into the snowy distance. The chapter ends with William trying to get Jane to admit her father is "fat-assed" and her brother is "skinny-assed"; he disapproves of both of them, before they decide they won't let Melvin in again and will simply leave his whiskey bottle outside for him. In his best W.C. Fields voice, William concludes, "Nice guys finish last."
While driving on his way to Flossmoor to see his father, William's car skids on an icy road and accidentally kills a woman named Mrs. Verne Conroy. When he tells the police he has no insurance, the cop sneers, "You're in deep." They find 20 unpaid parking tickets in his glove compartment and, on the backseat, a copy of Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary.
At the police station, he first calls Jane, who is all but speechless. He then calls his father, who in turn calls his lawyer, Daniel Lawrence, who arrives with a bondsman named Mr. Rabin. William and Lawrence join William's father in his limousine. Lawrence is concerned when William says he didn't "cry" at the scene of the accident, and says, "That's bad." Lawrence is also displeased that he called Jane at the police station, and continues ridiculing William for not crying.
"There's a woman dead," said Mr. Lawrence.
"I wish you had shown that you knew."
"There's nothing shameful about crying," said Mr. Lawrence. "I cry myself on occasions."
"Well, I don't feel like crying. I feel horrified."
"I'm gratified to hear that," said Mr. Lawrence.
"Really, Daniel!" said Mr. Popper. "William has had a shock."
Mr. Lawrence warns William and his dad not to interact with the victim's family, and that William should show some remorse at the trial and expect a charge for involuntary manslaughter. Then, Mr. Lawrence hops out to catch a cab, while William sneers that he hope he doesn't catch one.
At his father's house, William and his dad have dinner over two bottles of red wine, and the dad drinks to the memory of the victim even though William doesn't feel like talking about her. The dad tries to sympathize with William's failure to cry. They also talk about the dad's plans to move into his housing development in Concord, which is in a natural setting. The dad says William shouldn't feel too guilty about his accident, since worse things have happened in the war, adding, "That's why it seems to me so important to live close to nature. One wants to feel there is something permanent."
William takes a train back to Chicago and joins Jane in his own apartment; she sits on the edge of her bed, he slides into an armchair and tells her about the accident. They have sex for 25 minutes and he walks her back to her dorm. Down below, he leans against a fence in the darkness but is then briefly interrogated by a campus guard, who writes down his university identification and then snaps, "Don't let me catch you hanging around here anymore."
Mrs. Thwett goes to visit William's grandmother, Mrs. Popper, who suspects William's victim was a drunken Irish woman and that she must have been at fault for her own death. She demands the police do a blood test on her corpse "before the priests have time to destroy the evidence."
William's mother writes to him, telling him that God has a purpose for everything people do. She writes to him that she's sending him a painting and that her teacher, "Mr. Serapion," is teaching her to be more free in her work.
William teases Jane about the accident, comparing what he did to the poems of T.S. Eliot. This gets on her nerves.
"It's a simple question of style. Within the guiding lines of tradition, each individual works out his own style of destruction. For instance, suicide. Some students shy away from killing other people. They are withdrawn, you might say. They avoid face-to-face contact with their victims - except in the mirror. They jump out of windows or take poison. Others, like myself, lead sloppy lives. We skid into our victims. Style is the man, Jane. Nothing is accidental. You've read my mother's letter."
"Stop it!" Jane said.
"That poor woman's dead."
"I know," he said. "It's hard to believe."
"Well, she is."
To show remorse, William decides to go against the advice of his lawyer and pay a visit to the Conroys. Jane says she'll come with him and wait outside, but won't go into the house - which is a wooden bungalow with plastic-stone facing.
There, William meets his victim's mother-in-law, Mrs. Conroy, who accepts his roses but doesn't seem to have an opinion on what he did; when he apologizes for not going to the funeral, she tells him that he hadn't been expected to come.
Just then, Mrs. O'Mara, the victim's daughter, walks in and reprimands William for intruding into this "house of grief." They get into a brief argument about how William claims he wasn't been careless, and that it was all just an accident.
"Do you think God makes accidents?" Mrs. O'Mara said.
"I don't believe in God," said William. It was the wrong thing to say. Even Mrs. Conroy looked startled."
Williams realizes he needs to leave, and while Mrs. O'Mara reprimands him for his "blaspheming," Mrs. Conroy thanks him for the roses. Back in the taxicab (which, as Mrs. Conroy had earlier observed, William needed because he's no longer allowed to drive), Jane asks him what happened, but William doesn't want to talk about it. On the ride home, he breathes deeply and muses, "I wonder if her ghost is laid?"
Mr. Lawrence is extremely disappointed in William for disobeying him and going to see the victim's family. He has deduced that a jury trial would now not be so good for William anymore: "Juries do not not admire rich young men who live in concubinage and profess radical views." Believing the situation couldn't be any worse, Mr. Lawrence hopes the case will be heard by Judge Murrow, who, he claims, would not send William to jail; William is facing up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. But the state controls the vogels, which means he might have to appear before Judge Vogel. Before leaving, he warns William to dress appropriately in court.
William and his father go to visit his grandmother, who bitterly snipes at William for not coming to see her until now. Mrs. Popper, according to her butler Holmes, has been having trouble lately with black boys who run into her yard and climb on her roof; Mr. Popper suggests she allow those boys to set up a youth club in her yard, but she will have none of it (she wants to buy some police dogs for protection). She also reprimands William for his relationship with Jane: "You think I don't know how you live, but I do. I know you're living with a Jewish girl... Don't smile at me!"
After that, William insists on bringing his father home to meet Jane over dinner. They bring home some steaks and wine, and when they come home Jane is naked behind a crate that is encasing the painting William's mother, Isabelle, sent him. They break the crate open. The painting depicts some glowing green circles and a spiral nebula against a black background.
While they're eating, Melvin Lasher barges in, makes some jokes about how Mr. Popper should have adopted a Jewish boy instead of fathering William, and then suggests that Isabelle's painting represents vaginality and penis envy. While Williams quickly ushers Melvin out of the room, Jane and Mr. Popper begin talking.
They talk for several minutes, about marriage, about dreams, and at some point Jane bursts into tears, surprising Mr. Popper.
Jane stopped herself. "I'm sorry. You see, we thought - you'll think it's ridiculous - but we thought we could do something... you know" - she gestured vaguely - "to make the world better." And she put her elbow on the table, cupped her cheek in her palm, and burst out crying loudly.
Mr. Popper wonders why she won't marry William; doesn't she love him? She says she does, and dries her tears. He tells her he empathizes with her situation because his marriage to Isabelle was a lovely one, until he realized that he was hampering her artistic dreams and allowed her to move to New York. By the time William has returned, Mr. Popper feels it's best for him to leave instead of staying while Jane makes coffee.
Walking down to the limo, Mr. Popper insists William ought to persuade Jane to marry him. Inside the limo, they have a private talk, and Mr. Popper tells William he can see some of Isabelle in Jane.
Mr. Potter patted his son's shoulder. "This has been a very important evening for me," he said. "I've understood things about you, William, that I didn't quite understand before."
"I'm glad you came," said William.
"Even out of evil, good can come," said Mr. Popper. "This accident has brought us closer together as a family. And now you go up to Jane, my boy."
While lying in bed that night, William and Jane mourn about their future and their past.
Jane giggled. "You know, it was terrible, but I sobbed and sobbed with your father just because it suddenly struck me that we aren't going to change the world. He must have thought I was insane."
"That was why you cried?"
"Yes, really. It seemed so pathetic. I had a vision, that the world is just going to stagger along in its terrible old way and we can't make it better."
They talk about politics, too, and about how they kicked the Totskyites out of the SFNP but didn't have much to celebrate about it, and about how most of their friends have graduated by now. And about marriage; Jane confesses, "Maybe I'm just afraid of marrying you." She fears she;ll turn into an Emma Goldman type, but William assures her he wouldn't marry her just to save her from that (or from turning into a woman like his mother, Isabelle).
Lastly, they discuss if perhaps they should give Isabelle's painting to Mr. Popper, since, if it stays at William's place, it might get damaged during a party.
On June 6, William's case came before Judge Vogel.
Vogel believes that William is at fault because his reckless driving resulted in someone being killed. He disregards the meeting William had with the victim's family, since it bears no relevance to the crime that took place, but he does say that whatever conditions the victim was under at the time of the accident are also of no relevance because William's bad driving history is the real issue. Taking William's youth into account, Vogel sentences him to one year's imprisonement at hard labor and a fine of $5,000. He sets bail and a stay of execution, and orders him to turn himself in to the sheriff of Cook County at 10:00 on the morning of Saturday, the 16th.
Mr. Lawrence and his partner, Mr. Patton, are pleased with the verdict, though the Poppers are clearly not, especially Mrs. Thwett. When William makes talk of fleeing to Canada or Mexico, the two lawyers decide to part company with the family because they refuse to endorse any criminal actions.
The Poppers have lunch at the top of the Prudential Building, where Mrs. Thwett suggests her husband, Robert (a former U.S. Rep), might be able to help out. She then has to step away to cry, and William and his dad talk in private. Mr. Popper offers to call the Gannets, who own a lodge in Illinois (on an island in Lake Huron), and let William and Jane go up and relax there.
When William returns to his apartment, a subdued Melvin Lasher walks in. William tells him he's going to prison.
Lasher continued to face Mrs. Popper's picture. "Well, look at it this way," he said. "You'll have no responsibilities, no choices to make, no exams to take..."
"No freedom," William said.
"Freedom's old fashioned, William."
Lasher even suggests "suffering" is what most counts; he claims he got this from Dostoyevsky. They begin discussing what William might be able to do while he's in prison, and the conversation leads to this:
"Well, there's God," said Lasher. "Many people have seen God in a drop of water. I don't see why you can't find Him in steel bars. After all, cells have always been associated with intense spiritual life. Think of the monks."
"I'm thinking of them."
William then says he wants to throw a going-away party, and writes Lasher a $500 check. As Lasher is claiming the party will go down in "Hyde Park history," Jane comes in (unnoticed) and asks, "What party?"
"Jane, my love," Lasher said, "the most tremendous thing has happened. William is going to prison, and we're going to give him a fantastic going-away party."
Jane dropped her books.
"It is as it is," said William.
"I'm going to leave you two now," Lasher said. "I've got to go away and think."
"What about history?" William asked.
Lasher paused in the doorway. "I've just decided it's too late to do any serious studying. Besides, as Lenin said, it's more fun to make history than study it." Then he went on out the door, leaving Jane and William alone together.
Jane argues over a meal with her socialist father about William, whom he doesn't like.
The following afternoon, Jane and William fly to St. Ignace and meet up with Mr. Gannet, who takes them to the lodge, telling them he'll be back in four days.
William and Jane have some discussions, some about how William is still considering going to Canada, and how Jane disapproves of that. "I think you just want me to go to jail so you can work for TWO," William says with a smile (TWO is The Woodlawn Organization).
The next morning, William takes a swim in a the cold lake, daring Jane to come in, who refuses. They drink some champagne before breakfast and then go back to bed.
"Just think!" William said. "Millions of people are drinking bad coffee and reading bad newspapers and getting ready to go to dull jobs."
"Well, we're going to change all that, aren't we?" Jane said.
"We'd like to think so," William said.
William visits his grandmother. Among other things, she tells him that in her will, she has specified that when she dies, her house will go to him.
When the party is officially thrown at the apartment, Lasher introduces William and Jane to "Bob," who doesn't say much. A stripper, Miss Camille de la Canorgue, puts on a performance in an alligator mask. Jane thinks she's awful.
At one point during the party, Lasher calls down to two blacks on the streets, calls them "nigs" and tells them the party offers "free drinks and nice Jewish girls." The two blacks (named Melvin and Howard) come up and try to beat up Lasher for this, but are stopped by Corinna, a fat, friendly prostitute who invites herself into the party.
Throughout the night, Lasher finds himself having to bribe cops not to shut the party down (neighbors are complaining about noise). Corinna gets up on a table and tells everyone about her husband "O'Reilly" and the hard times they went through ("It was eating too much and drinking too much that made me lose my shape, and that's how I became a chanteuse").
The party is finally shut down by some police who decide to arrest everybody there. The next morning, William is reprimanded by Mr. Lawrence and driven to the courthouse, but Lasher, Jane and others get in Howard's red Cadillac and they chase him, and William and Jane blow kisses at each other from opposite cars. Mr. Lawrence asks William to roll up his window because the wind is irritating his toothache. He is ignored.
When they reach the County Court Building, Mr. Popper is waiting for them. They're 10 minutes late. Mr. Lawrence is appalled by the sight of William's friends coming out to greet them, while Mr. Popper, bemused, shakes some of their hands. William embraces Jane.
"Good bye," she said.
"You won't miss me much?"
She shook her head. "Will you be all right?"
But Mr. Popper and Mr. Lawrence finally have to insist that William party company with them. "A cheer," said Lasher. "Hip, hip, hooray!" Wiliam's friends cheer him on as he disappears. Once he's gone, they all get back into the red Cadillac, "and then there were only the usual pedestrians on the sidewalk."
William moves into a cell with Senator James Moran, who went to jail for embezzlement. Moran says that while he's not innocent, somebody named "Harkins" is supposedly at fault for him landing in prison. Moran has smuggled yakydock into the cell, but warns William that he should find some money if ever he wants to obtain any rare goods while in prison. As part of his sentence, William is assigned the duty of shoveling coal in prison.
In the showers, William meets a gay, muscular black man named George and decides to help him write a letter to a fair-haired boy who works in the prison hospital but is currently under the protection of a convict by the name of McArdle.
Now, in the shower room, William understood at once when George asked, "Would you say, 'You got the most pretty face I've ever seen?"
"No," William said. "I'd say, 'You've got the prettiest face I've ever seen."
The noise of the showers interfered with George's hearing. "How'd you say that?" he asked.
William raised his voice. "I said, 'You've got the prettiest face I've ever seen.'"
He was overheard by other bathers, who looked first at George and then at William. Blushing, William retreated under his curtain of water, while George, meditating this new verbal stroke, returned to his own thoughts.
When rumor gets around that William might be in love w/George, Moran interrogates William but is thankful when he reveals he thinks about Jane daily, and is merely helping George get acquainted with the fair-haired boy. "But one thing, Bill," Moran adds, "I'd steer clear of George if I were you. You know, that sort of stuff's contaminating, and dangerous, too. Half the knifings in this prison are about sex. You don't want to be mixed up in things like that." To further his point about "not making too many friends" in prison, Moran shows William some porn pictures he bought from a convict that he wishes he hadn't bought because they're overly vile.
A few days later, after sending the letter to the fair-haired boy and excitedly claiming he "looked" at him during breakfast, George spots a crow flying over the blue sky, which he says to William is bad luck. Sure enough, later that afternoon, George is knifed in the showers by McArdle, who flees the scene while William screams for help. A guard comes onto the scene and orders William and others to line up and face the wall.
George lay deserted in the middle of the shower room until the medical orderlies arrived. He was unconscious by the time he reached the prison hospital. Before supper he was dead.
Jane talks with her roommate Bernice, then goes with Mr. Popper to see William in prison. William tells them about George's murder and that he's going to be witness at the murder trial, even though talking about such things is considered a taboo by the inmates. Mr. Popper says he'll get Mr. Lawrence to represent William at the trial.
During the visitation, they look over and notice a black woman crying while visiting her convict husband.
At once the man next to William rose and walked to the prisoner's door, leaving his wife sitting at the table, her handkerchief still held across her mouth and nose. She sat for a moment, weeping as steadily as she had wept all during her conversation with her husband. Then, still with the handkerchief at her face, she stood up and moved toward the visitors' door. William could still not decide from exactly what depth her tears came.
Eventually, William's time is up.
"Goodbye," said Jane.
"I'll be seeing you," said William. He got up and walked to the door, where he paused a moment to look back at Jane and his father. Their faces had gone suddenly blank, which made him feel worse than he had felt for a long time.
Isabelle writes to William, saying how his prison sentence reminds her of her own life because "my whole life has been a sort of prison." She also says she hopes he will get out soon, and that the time he serves may even remind her of how she's felt throughout all these years.
Mr. Lawrence comes to see William in prison and insists that William not make clear at the trial that he was a friend of George. William really wants to tell the truth at the trial (he and Mr. Lawrence have a memorable debate about how William "admires" strong, muscular men like George, but Mr. Lawrence does not). Mr. Lawrence discourages against William revealing he was a friend of George's. When William ponders, "Friends aren't reliable witnesses?" Mr. Lawrence sits back in his chair and barks, "If you want my advice, please stop trying to provoke me with 'clever' questions."
They continue talking. William believes he noticed McArdle looking "surprised" upon slashing George, as if he hadn't actually meant to kill him. But Mr. Lawrence tells him to forget about this.
"In any case, you're a prosecution witness. They will try to present it as a deliberate, murderous attack, and it's not in your interest to introduce interpretations like this one."
"I'm supposed to tell the whole truth," William said.
This produced a return to the earlier atmosphere of their interview, and yet William's opinion of Mr. Lawrence had really risen. Mr. Lawrence, as far as he went, was not a bad man. And for the world beyond Mr. Lawrence, what guides were there?
After the interview, William chats with Moran about law and order, namely about how governments are important but that sometimes people should keep quiet. "Bill," he warns, "your first responsibility is to yourself."
Then, when he's taken to the witness room of the Joliet courthouse, William decides he is going to escape. When the guards allow him to go to the bathroom unsupervised, he climbs out the open window sill and launches himself twelve feet downwards to the grass.
The fall was painful. He sprawled on the grass, wondering if he had twisted his ankle. He was reassured when he got to his feet. His ankle hurt, but it functioned. Limping only slightly, he traversed the lawn, stepped over a low iron railing, and with increasing ease walked east away from the Joliet courthouse.
Bernice is startled when William shows up at her doorstep; he hitchhiked his way to Chicago. He phones Jane at TWO; she at first assumes it's Lasher pulling a prank, but realizes it's William when he does his W.C. Fields imitation.
When Jane shows up, William tells her he's thinking about going to Mexico, and he wants her to go with him. She accepts. Bernice doesn't like the idea.
William and Jane get a room in a hotel (checking in as Mr. and Mrs. Millard Fillmore) and go for a swim in a lake. William wears the bottom of one of Jane's suits, which is "designed to go out where he didn't go out and go in where he didn't go in." Jane only swims briefly, but William swims out far.
The shore was not patrolled here. There was no lifeguard to blow a whistle, no prison guard to tell him to keep in line, no policeman to ask for his identity. He swam straight out, turning on his back from time to time to look out at the receding shore. The farther he swam, the more the hotels and apartment houses along the lake shore seemed to tower up. The panorama widened until he could see as far north as the Loop and as far south as the steel mills. Then he dived down as far as he could go. The water grew colder and colder the farther down he went. When the pressure on his eardrums grew painful, he turned and started back toward the surface, which looked from below like a round, shining circle. He broke the surface with a splash and then floated with his feet out and his hands behind his head. He could see nothing but the sky, and, with water in his ears, he could hear nothing but the liquid sounds of his own faint movement. He felt detached and isolated in a world of his own.
William and Jane then go to Lasher's. William tells Lasher a phony story about how he escaped from prison by growing a potato vine out the window. To which Jane adds, "William's just making this up because the truth is even less plausible."
Lasher introduces them to his new girlfriend, Monica, who is intrigued when William tells her he was in prison. 'You have?" she asks. "For pot or pacifism?" To which Lasher responds, "Neither. William killed a woman. I've told you about him."
William proposes he'll get money from his grandmother and then give it to Lasher so that he can buy a car for them.
"Sorry to see you go," Lasher said. "But I shall return with money from Grandma." He paused in the doorway to look at Jane. "Don't worry about me."
"I'll try not to," she said.
"Why should she?" Lasher asked. "Doesn't God take care of the lucky?"
William goes to Prairie Avenue, where his grandmother is on alert because she claims kids are trying to break into her house, and dogs are patrolling the yard down below. William manages to climb up to her.
"William?" she said. "What are you doing out there?"
"It was the question Thoreau had asked Emerson. William could not resist saying, "And what are you doing in there?"
She is disappointed not merely because he escaped from prison, but because he is fleeing the country and is not willing to fight the system and clear his name anymore. She allows him to take money from her safe, but tells him she's going to change her will. He will probably be cut out of it.
Some black cops come in protesting that they can't guard the house anymore because the dogs in the yard bit them. They see William and are suspicious. Holmes has told them that William is their chauffeur, but this doesn't seem to convince them.
William comes back to Lasher's, where he is joined by Jane as well as Leo & Angelica. Monica has fallen asleep down on the staircase. Lasher recites a poem he wrote:
The woods decay, the woods decay and rot
The gasworks leak their vapor to the air
Man comes and fills the streets and rides beneath,
And after many a summer dies the clown.
Lasher says it's supposed to be a sad poem, a result of his "Tennysonian, not to say Vergilian, mood."
They are now all planning to go down to Mexico with William and Jane, although Leo says he might have to join them later because he has to meet a man in Ypsilanti. Lasher then agrees he will use William's grandmother's money to buy a car and deliver it to the Shoreham -- which is where they'll be going.
"And now shall we sing the Whiffenpoof song?"
"No," said William.
"Always your infallible taste corrects me," Lasher said. "After all, we're not Yalies, are we? We're Chicago men."
"We're better than that," William said. "We're Chicago men and women."
William calls his father over the phone, but the call is angrily interrupted by Mrs. Twett, who demands that William turn himself in because he is disgracing the family and because his grandmother might go to jail if the police find out she sheltered him. Mr. Popper tells Mrs. Thwett, "William's chosen his own way, and I think it's too late for us to change it." But he also warns William, "What I'm afraid of is that you've used your influence to make her come with you." When William admits that that is, indeed, what he's doing, Mr. Popper asks him if that was the right thing to do, and whether it would have been better (and possible) to avoid it. To which William replies, "Why? If you lean over backward trying to not influence them, they're still going to be influenced by someone. It's a question of whose influence is best... Besides, Jane's not a puppet. She wouldn't be going to Mexico with me if she didn't really mean it. People do what they want."
When the call ends, William says to his father, "And Daddy, I hope you won't be alone," to which Mr. Popper responds, "You musn't worry about me... Take care of yourself. And take care of Jane." William also wishes Mrs. Thwett goodbye, but she replies,"I'm not going to say goodbye... I'm too angry."
Lasher has William and Jane's car parked across the street, but apparently they'll be making the trip to Mexico alone because Bernice's apartment was recently searched by police. When they reach the car, Lasher slaps William's shoulder and remarks, "Back at the wheel! The killer rides again."
There is a special intimacy about the front seat of an automobile at the beginning of a long trip. The road maps are still freshly creased. There are no half-eaten rolls of Lifesavers, no stray bits of Kleenex or candy wrappers, and the windshield is clean.
On Cicero Avenue, William and Jane pick up an 88-year old hitchhiker named George Morrison (William introduces himself as "William White"). Morrison claims he ran away from home even though his "daughter" begged him not to. He proceeds to tell William and Jane some highly unlikely stories, among them a tale that he fought in the Spanish-American War at San Juan Hill and that Colonel Theodore Roosevelt told him to "Beat that drum, boy, beat it like hell." He also claims he also fought in World War I at St. Mihiel, and that he comes from Point Pleasant, Ohio.
In one story he tells, he used to be a farmer until he accidentally shot his wife in the breast, while she posthumously gave birth to a son whom he quickly delivered with a hunting knife and "Caesarian midesction." The death of this wife made him leave the farm.
Morrison later tells an absurd story about how his "second wife" who died in a wellhead that caught fire after Morrison accidentally ignited it with a cigar, at a time when he was a "rich" oil proctor (he claims he drank away all of his money afterwards). William observes, "You've been unlucky with your wives."
Politically, Morrison says he's always voted Republican (in the election of 1913, he says he "wanted" T.R. to win but voted for Taft because he believed Taft would win, but then realized "it was Wilson all the time"). He claims he would have voted for FDR in 1936 "if I hadn't been sick this year," even though he thought Hoover would take it. He thought Nixon would win instead of JFK in the 60's but lost because of Japanese voters ("The Japanese they run out of California during the war"), which outrages him because his grandson (also named George Morrison) died while dive-bombing and sinking a Jap battleship in WWII; he was his daughter's only son.
William observes, "But if your daughter was the mother of the pilot who sank the Japanese battleship, his name wouldn't be Morrison," and Morrison replies, "That's right, only she married a man named Morrison from Battavia, a cousin of ours."
Morrison also claims he had a third wife from Kokomo, Indiana who died"in the flu epidemic of nineteen-eighteen," which was after his WWI service. He then took up a job in a Coca-Cola factory and lost his finger in a bottlemaking machine (says William: "It must have been quite an experience for the person who drank that bottle.")
Then Morrison claims he went shrimp-fishing in the Gulf of Mexico ("They've got a lot of sharks down there,") but before he can tell a possible shark story, he falls asleep.
They all check into a motel in Burlington; William and Jane book a second room for Morrison, even though they're anxious to get rid of him.
At night, William and Jane lay away thinking - Jane, about how they'll be giving up a life of politics, and William, about how he confesses he never got involved in politics like she did, and was never willing to join TWO. But despite Jane's nostalgia for the country she's about to leave, she laughs and assures William she would never return to American without him. "You really love me, don't you?" he asks. She replies, "Yes, I really do."
When they had made love, William lay back on his pillow. He was thinking of Jane's answer. It was a new conception to him that she could love him enough to give up many things that were meaningful to her. Such a feeling almost amounted to self-sacrifice, an alien phenomenon in William's thinking. And yet, the more he considered it, the more he saw that self-sacrifice had been there all the time in his father and in Jane. He wondered about his responsibility in the face of this new view of human possibilities. He wondered, too, if there was something missing in him that he didn't have this quality possessed by the two best people he had known.
They decide to see what they can of Burlington, and go to a local necking area that's being patrolled by the police. In the bushes, they're caught by some cops who ask for William's driver's license. Observing his strange gesture of searching his pockets only to realize it's not their (William has forgotten his license was revoked long ago), the cops assume he lost it in the bushes. The cops try to help him find it, but find nothing; shrugging, they suggest he go back to the station to see if they've got it there, and then warn him and Jane to be on their way.
In the morning, Morrison catches them and joins them again, but they ditch him on Route Thirty-Four; they claim they're newlyweds on their honeymoon (who aren't wearing rings because they're Christian Scientists). Morrison angrily gets out, mutters "Young folks!" then goes on another one of his tirades before spitting on the pavement, and hissing to them, "You'll see... sailing along in that car, breaking all the speed limits. They'll get you."
After they've driven through Joplin, Missouri and Oklahoma City, they finally reach Laredo, Texas - on their fourth day out of Chicago. Knowing the car won't make it to Mexico City because it's low on oil and making some awful noises, they make a plan to sell the car, send their suitcases to Mexico by Railway Express, and then hope from a tourist bus to a train on their way to Mexico. After some bargaining, they're able to sell the car to a sympathetic dealer ("I'd like to help you young folks if I could") for $125. The dealer kindly drives them to the station, where Jane's bags are shipped, and William brings along his bag full of necessities onto the tourist bus.
They looked at the exposed river bed. Jane put her arm through William's.
"Nervous?" he asked.
"Remember, we're just tourists now."
She nodded, but her hand tightened on his arm as they approached the frontier barrier. She need not have worried. An American customs agent wearing a Texas hat climbed aboard. "Y'all citizens?" he asked. They all were. "O.K." He climbed back down.
"And that's that," said William.
It was spring again. William leaned on the balustrade of his terrace and looked out at the Pacific. Frangipani bloomed in stone urns on either side of him. Fifty yards ahead, and almost at William's level, a seagull floated in the air. William watched it fold its wings and swoop down toward the village dump. Then his attention was attracted to a dusty black car that had emerged from the village and started up the road toward the villa. A plume of dust rose behind the car. Presently William could hear the engine laboring. The car disappeared behind a clump of pines, reappeared in the road directly below the terrace, and came to a stop. The driver got out and ran around to open the rear door, and Mrs. Twett emerged.
Mrs. Thwett is suffering from a bout of Montezuma's Revenge when she greets William. She believes his new home looks worse than his Chicago apartment, but he likes how the rent is only $100 a month ("Life is cheap here), and is okay with the fact that a gardener, a maid and the maid's family comes with the place. Mrs. Thwett has brought some papers; she says the Conroys are suing their family for damages, and that his father could have brought the papers himself but is too afraid to fly. She does, however, say that his father is "well." After Mrs. Thwett meets Jane for the first time, she observes, to William, "So you're going to have a child." William assures her that he and Jane will get married before that happens.
Jane talks privately with William, confessing that Mrs. Thwett "scares" her a little; William claims her husband (his uncle) is fat, hard-boiled and even less friendly.
"Do you think we're going to make good parents?"
"Aunt Anne was raising that very question."
"I think we will," Jane said. "I'm really getting sort of excited."
"And you used to have such misgivings about being married!"
"Being married and having a child are different."
"The two things are often connected."
"Not in my case."
"We're correcting that." William laughed. "You know, we've come all this way just to settle into domesticity."
"It is funny," Jane said.
"Maybe we ought to announce it at our wedding."
"I wouldn't mind it," Jane said.
They finish by discussing what possible wedding presents their families will send them. Then they go back to writing - Jane to writing her novel, William to writing his book, which started as a polemical autobiography called Under the Mushroom Cloud but is now a political analysis of American Life, perhaps to be titled Love and Violence: The American Antimonies. Writing is something William has found he enjoys.
Mrs. Thwett ate a light supper with them. Afterward they went out on the terrace, where she unfolded the business matters with which she had been entrusted. There were papers for William to sign. "And these will have to be notarized. I suppose there is such a thing down here?"
"And here's some money for the time being." She handed William a folder of traveler's checks.
"Will I have to pay American taxes if my income comes from a Mexican mutual fund?"
"Then we'll be rich."
"You won't be rich until Mother dies."
"How is she."
"not very well. All this business about you, and now the Land Commission wants to take her house."
"It'll give her something to fight," William said.
"She;s not who she was," said Mrs. Thwett. "I'm afraid if they do pull down house it may be the end."
"Ten years ago this would have been a blessing, but now she's really too old to move." She sighed. Then she lit a cigarette. "Now, William, I want to have a serious conversation with you."
"Shall I leave?" Jane asked.
"No. I want you to hear this, too."
"What is it?" William asked, though he knew what it was.
"It's this, William. We've arranged for you to receive money here in Mexico, but I hope you're not going to settle here permanently. I didn't know when I came that you're going to have a child, but that makes it just that much more important for you to return to the United States."
"And go to prison?"
"You wouldn't be in long. Robert has talked to the state's attorney. You wouldn't have to spend more than another thirty months in prison."
"Any why should I spend any time in prison?"
"In order to live in your own country again."
"And why should I live there?"
"It's where you belong."
"I don't feel that," William said.
"Then, I'm sorry for you."
At sunset, sweet-smelling breezes began to blow from the hills behind the villa. William lifted his head to catch them. It was the time of day he liked best, when he and Jane would sit on the terrace in the gathering darkness while bats began to flit overhead.
"I don't want to sound accusing," Mrs. Thwett said, "but there is such a thing as patriotism."
"I know there is. I used to be very patriotic."
"And aren't you anymore?"
"Not in the same way."
Mrs. Thwett shifted in her chair. William watched the glowing tip of her cigarette as she flicked away ashes. "And what are you going to do with your life?" she asked.
"It's hard to say."
"You're still very young," Mrs. Thwett said. "There are years and years ahead of you."
"I'm aware of that."
Mrs. Thwett gave up her attention on Jane temporarily and turned her attention to Jane. "And don't you want to go back and have your child in an American hospital?"
"I want to stay with William."
"And what sort of life will you have here? What sort of life will it be for your child?"
"If we stay here, he'll grow up loving this place, and it's really very beautiful here.
"And what about you?"
William intervened. "We're as happy here as we'd be anywhere else. Happier than if I were in Stateville."
"America isn't just Stateville, William."
"For me, it is." William couldn't see his aunt's expression anymore, but he could imagine it. "I'm sorry, Aunt Anne, but it's no good. This is just the way I am."
Mrs. Thwett leaned forward as if to pounce. "And don't you ever want to live in your own country again?"
"No," said William.