Americans’ View of Freedom
‘There’s always a period of curious fear between the first sweet-smelling breeze and the time when the rain comes cracking down.’
Critics could speculate on the situation of liberty in America for hours, which is essentially what Delillo did, in many of his novels, not least, White Noise.
America, as everyone knows, is commonly referred to as ‘The Land of the Free’. Interesting then, what their concept of ‘free’ is. This has become a topic of satire, consideration, deliberation and argument the world over, and because of this, has sparked many a novel on the benefits and negatives of materialism and consumerism. Don Dellilo is one of the most famous of these authors, having written several novels on whether or not the post-modern consumer culture, which has been created through mass commercialism and consumerism, really does equate to the population being ‘free’. He does this in a refreshingly satirical manner, in such a way as to be careful not to offend, but alert to what is really going on. It is a gentle probing into whether or not the population is in fact being manipulated by commercialism into believing they are free, or whether they can trust what the politicians say, and are truly liberated.
The whole concept of freedom is something that America as a whole takes very seriously, and yet, as outsiders, visiting the country, we only see stringent rules and a fully formed behavioural grid implemented very cleverly by the government.
Dellilo uses the relationship between Jack and his father very cleverly to illustrate almost the sense of the ridiculous that emerges as we see what their lives and their dialogue actually revolves around.
“The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.”
For us, as Europeans, this is a laugh out loud line, illustrating in one short sharp burst the element of the absurd that surrounds the American population and their obsession for all things ‘huge’ – massive cars, everyone the same, without any sense of identity and every sense of conformity. The question is though, whilst we see the development of consumerism over the past years as emerging into the slightly comical, do the American people themselves see it in the same way?
Furthermore, in consideration with the above, it is interesting that Delillo himself is of course, American. This implies that they can indeed laugh and the almost satirical situation their excessive materialism is leading them to. Delillo’s novels suggest that his view of post-modern consumer culture is slightly humorous. Indeed, it feels almost as though he harks back to the Arthur Miller and Death of a Salesman era with White Noise. There is the same burlesque view of what happens when ‘the ideal life’ is attempted, and in fact, how death and life and the quality of life have become near an obsession for the most part of the population.
Let us move for a moment to another well known and perhaps more complex author of post-modern literature, Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith interesting used her arguably most famous protagonist, Tom Ripley, in a highly ambiguous way in all aspects; his sexuality – exploring the modern day concept of ambi-sexuality, he is also on the run from the law or tricking the law at nearly every opportunity, playing with rules and living a contradictory life from all the conventionalities we are used to seeing. This is fascinating – was Ripley invented as a protest to the ever more stringent laws and conventionalities that were emerging? It seems that as time has progressed and consumerism has stepped up to commercialism’s demand – we need only look at all the ‘days’ America now celebrates; Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Mother’s day, Father’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and this is not by any means all of them – they seem to be added to all the time, and America seems to embrace them. It is almost as if materialism is now equating to status. This leads us back to Jack, and the start of his story which sees the ‘line of Station Wagon’s’, well, large cars, large houses, they seem to mean more and more to the American public. As we saw Will Lowman strive for the large house, the financial stability, the nice car – sure that it would make him socially acceptable and happy, and ultimately failing, we see this trend continued throughout history, not weakening, but getting stronger.