“Life and money both behave like loose quicksilver in a nest of cracks.”

I’ve gotten to like Uncle George Amberson (who offers this remark on the world) and am sorry that he seems to have left the novel for sunnier climes.  Georgie, meanwhile, is in the storm now–in more mundane ways than Lear, perhaps (if this seems confusing, have a look at my conversation with Paul in comments on the last post), but no less real.  And, as I predicted, it seems like Georgie is becoming a good fellow in rapid speed…rapid enough to marry Lucy, I should think, before the end of the book.

I’ll give Tarkington credit, in that the shift in Georgie to practicality is far more believable than I’d expected–necessity is the mother of invention, and the financial state he’s in is pretty dire.  But it’s far too convenient.  People don’t change their personalities simply because life is difficult–if poverty made us all saints, the world would be a very different place.  Suddenly Georgie’s most prominent traits are generosity of spirit, practicality, a sense of family loyalty.  Where was this man before?  And where did his other traits go–25 years of condescension and arrogance can’t be swept away by two deaths in the family and financial ruin, or at least, I doubt they can.  I can see them waking someone up to the fact that they, while normally a good person, have been behaving badly.  But not someone who has never known what it meant to be selfless.

I’m struck by this–maybe you all think hardship works more wonders than I do (if you’ve seen it in real life, I’d find that a better reason to like Tarkington’s approach).  But I think Tarkington’s trying to get his sappy ending, and won’t let the character’s actual personalities interfere with the goal.

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2 comments on ““Life and money both behave like loose quicksilver in a nest of cracks.”

  1. bakerlady says:

    I’ve never known financial ruin to completely alter someone’s outlook on life but have experienced the deep changes emotional hardship can create.

    I don’t know about a sappy ending, but I certainly am more empathetic since dealing with emotional pain personally than I ever could have been without it.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Thanks for the perspective, Tonya–I certainly can respect where you’re coming from. I don’t know that I can accept Georgie’s total transformation from self-centered, arrogant and juvenile to sober, wise, and self-controlled, but I probably shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea that circumstances could change someone.

      Still, I’d suggest that the compassion you’ve been able to tap into in the wake of pain is a compassion that many observers would have identified in your character previously. I think my challenge with Georgie is that I don’t see any hint of this side of him until it arrives in a rush at the end.

      I should give Tarkington another thought, though. This did win a fairly prestigious prize, after all…maybe Georgie’s shift is more believable than I am making it. After all, if your example is applicable (that emotional hardship might lead to empathy for the emotions of others), couldn’t we suggest that financial hardship leads Georgie to be much less snobbish about money and class status, which is his real problem?

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