Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 699
Paul Horgan’s “National Honeymoon” is divided into two sections; the first section shows the temptation, fall, and humiliation of the protagonists Gustavus Adolphus (Gus) Earickson and his new bride, Roberta May, and the second part reveals their redemption. The newlywed couple’s innocence is pitted against the cheap vulgarity of Hollywood and the persuasive insincerity of its pitchmen.
Roberta May succumbs to the lure of radio-show riches and secretly arranges for the newlywed couple to appear on a regular radio program, National Honeymoon. She keeps her plans secret until the last moment, because she suspects that her husband would not submit to a public invasion of their private life. In her naïveté, she believes that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Married for only several hours, Gus and Roberta May find themselves whisked away from their home in New Mexico to Hollywood, where they must confront the carefully orchestrated spontaneity of the show’s professional host, everyone’s “favorite father-in-law, Gail Burke Himself.” Gus and Roberta May soon find that they have temporarily turned their lives over to the glib machinations of Burke, whose purpose is to pry and probe into their private lives, to titillate the audience, and generally to put them on display. Under the guise of jovial beneficence, Burke bullies and belittles the couple to reveal the details of their courtship, the intimacies of their quarrels, and the sincerity of their love for each other.
At first, he targets Gus, complimenting him on his good looks and making fun of his name. The disconcerted Gus reluctantly replies to Burke’s sallies, but when Burke moves too close to an invasion of privacy with his sly insinuations about their honeymoon activities, he senses the danger of a scene in the “dry edge” that comes into Gus’s voice. Burke quickly switches to the more vulnerable Roberta May, tempting her with “surprises for them that will take their breath away,” and reassuring her with phony familiarity. Carried away by the moment, Roberta May tells Burke and the avid audience about the details of their courtship, how she realized that she loved Gus when she learned that he was missing in action, that two weeks elapsed before their first kiss, and that they had quarreled about whether she should keep her job. Her revelations are interspersed with roars of approval from the audience and the banalities of the slick host. Not wanting to humiliate Roberta May publicly, the unfortunate Gus unwillingly acquiesces to the public exposure of their private lives. They are duly rewarded with an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hollywood, lunch with the stars, monogrammed shirts, silk pajamas, silk negligee, silk sheets, and the fulfillment of Roberta May’s secret dream, a special room done up in knotty pine with a fireplace and special furniture.
Later that night, Gus awakens to find Roberta May silently crying. She realizes that she has made the Devil’s bargain and traded away “their very own love story” and “let it be given to everybody else.” The inconsolable Roberta May berates herself for the irretrievable loss. Gus, however, tells her that if she will simply leave it all to him, he can make it right. The next afternoon after the show, Gus and Roberta wait for Gail Burke to appear. Gus tells Burke that they have come to return all the things that they had been given. The uncomprehending Burke is stunned. “’You can’t do this to me!’ snapped Burke. ’In all my years on National Honeymoon a thing like this has never happened to me.’”
Burke warns his usually obsequious attendants to keep things quiet, but he has been stripped of his polished veneer. Roberta May, sensing his vulnerability, seeks to reassure him: “’Never mind, Mr. Burke,’ she said with sweetness.” Her compassion and simple dignity in contrast to the now-befuddled Burke reveals him as a ludicrous marionette, and Gail Burke suffers the “final punishment” of the derisive laughter of his staff. The triumph of Gus and Roberta May over the polished professional host and the materialistic values for which he is a cipher is an affirmation of the humanistic values found throughout Horgan’s work.
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