This advice from Uncle George Amberson comes at least an hour too late to the impetuous Georgie Amberson Minafer. I take back my earlier comment that I can’t see Georgie as domineering, since he clearly is. It’s a strange side of him, though–he goes from bristling at the idea that Lucy’s father, Eugene, thinks ill of him straight to a disastrous confrontation with the town gossip, purely because there is “talk” about Eugene and Georgie’s widowed mother, Isabel. This meltdown of Georgie’s is interesting to me: first of all, when his uncle points out that there’s nothing wrong with a widow and widower getting married (the mourning year has passed), Georgie has no response other than to be appalled that anyone would think this marriage would be acceptable. But what is it that bothers him so? He was never close to his late father, Wilbur Minafer–is this Georgie processing his guilt at never having known his dad? Is it that he feels Eugene will prevent Lucy from marrying him, and he wants to return the favor? Or is it as simple as he says it is–that one’s good name is the most important thing about them? But Georgie doesn’t seem much like John Proctor to me.
What is terrible about Georgie is that, even when given the chance to consider things calmly, he refuses. And the pattern of his life continues–his mother knows, on some level, that Georgie is wrong, but in the end she cannot fight him. She abandons her home and the man she loves (or might have loved, given time) to roam the earth despite her failing health, all so that Georgie can be satisfied that she will never marry Eugene. But what kind of life is this? Even Oedipus would find it hopelessly confining–Georgie, in denying his mother any life outside of her worship of him, will spend the rest of her life as her gloomy chaperone. His will, his appetite for dominance, has outgrown any reasonable bound: he is a child who believes that only screaming will accomplish his ends. His most pathetic moment–being ordered out of a home built on a piece of the old Amberson estate by the old gossip who lived there–was the moment where it seemed Georgie might rein himself in, might acknowledge that it was time to grow up. He might realize that “being an Amberson” gives him very little authority (all of it merely social), and that his bad manners have spoiled any chance he has to gain the town’s respect. But no.
The funny thing about all this is that Tarkington seems to be on his side. Georgie is fundamentally old-fashioned–his quarrel with Eugene is essentially an Old Money vs. New Money quarrel (at least at first). He wants to reject progress, dress as “important men” once did, and preserve the good old class structure in town. It’s the Morgans who are more democratic, passionate, unconcerned with what the gossip will be. And yet every chance Tarkington gets, he laments the fall of the old order, the old town, and bashes the arrival of the automobile (thanks to Eugene Morgan’s factories) in very unsubtle ways. The two themes seem hopelessly contradictory, and I can’t understand why they are here–given that the impersonal 3rd person narrator is unlikely to repudiate earlier assertions about how dirty and awful the modern age is, can it be that we are to empathize with Georgie? Or is the narrator supposed to, in some mysterious way, be him? The style of the novel is confusing its message, for me.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m detached from the novel–not engaged by it. But I’m frustrated with it, and it’s hard to see where it’s taking me. The Morgans seem without flaw to me, and Georgie irredeemable (though I anticipate an 11th hour redemption, regardless). I think the interesting characters in the middle of all this are the real Ambersons–the decrepit old Major, Uncle George (whose practicality doesn’t always show up at the right time), and Isabel Minafer, George’s hopeless mother who may yet salvage her life if she can cut herself free from the wreckage of her son’s insatiable will. And Aunt Fanny Minafer, whose despair has fueled a lot of the trouble here in the later stages of the book, but who is at least a complex person (if a bit tiresome). But I think Tarkington is much more interested in Georgie’s fall from grace and how immovable the Morgan kindness proves to be–if I’m right, I’ll be disappointed at the book’s ending. I hope not: come on, Booth, why do the Ambersons matter? Throw me a rope. Only 100 pages to go–review tomorrow, in all likelihood.