In a meditation on his alienation from family and homeland, the narrator reflects that his family is made up of Nordic idiots—clean, tidy, industrious, but unable to live in the present or to open the doors into their souls. Nowhere on earth has he felt so degraded and humiliated as in America, which he envisions as a cesspool of the spirit. Over the cesspool is a shrine to the spirit of work, with its chemical factories, steel mills, prisons, and insane asylums. Miller wishes to see the shrine destroyed, in vengeance for unnamed crimes against him and others.
Miller comments that he had a good time as a child because he did not care about anything—a lesson learned at the age of twelve as a result of the death of a friend. He realized then that things are wrong only when one cares too much. As if to prove that he had learned not to care, he let out a loud fart beside his friend’s coffin.
During wartime, Miller has a wife and child and badly needs a job. In a farcical episode involving a clerk named Hymie, office politics, and racism, Miller talks the manager of the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company into giving him a job hiring and firing messengers. The company is inhumane, corrupt, and exploitative. After the company decreases the messengers’ pay, Miller is forced to be less selective in hiring, which results in a number of grotesque incidents involving epileptic, criminal, and delinquent messengers. In response to the poverty around him, Miller gives all his money away, in turn cadging dollars from acquaintances to buy food for himself. During Miller’s time at the Cosmodemonic, he meets an African American woman named Valeska, with whom he has a brief sexual liaison. She commits suicide.
Miller recalls an episode from his childhood in which he and his cousin Gene killed a boy in a gang fight. Miller and Gene hurried home afterward, and Aunt Caroline, Gene’s mother, gave them rye bread with butter. Miller remembers this image as particularly potent. In that house, he was never scolded; the image conveys an angelic forgiveness,...
(The entire section is 848 words.)