Part 1, Chapter 15 Summary
Wearing his customary dark glasses and his black scholar’s robe, Gladney unobtrusively enters Murray Jay Siskind’s Elvis lecture. Siskind is talking about the relationship between Elvis and his mother, Gladys, who appears to have known the likely ending of her son’s life if he became a star.
From the back of the room, Gladney speaks about Hitler and his extraordinarily close (shockingly close, some would say) relationship with his mother, Klara. The two professors speak in counterpoint, each man matching the other with pertinent points about their respective “stars” as they walk around the room and through the groups of students gathered for the lecture.
Soon Siskind shares his last bit of information on this topic and sits on the floor in a corner of the room, happily deferring to Gladney. In dramatic fashion, Gladney talks about the crowds who used to come to see Klara’s birthplace. It was just a trickle at first, humble and respectful; soon, however, hordes of people came and began to desecrate the site by taking small things, tokens by which they could respect and remember.
The crowds grew so large that Hitler had to stay inside, and when he did speak to them he used his voice as a “thrilling weapon” to give speeches since labeled “sex murders.” The people were mesmerized by the theatrics, the parades, and his voice; however, this is common behavior for crowds of people who are “eager to be transported.”
What, Gladney asks, made these crowds different, for they were different. He claims that one word set these crowds apart from every other crowd: death.
The people came to pay tribute to the dead, to celebrate death with processions, speeches, songs, and military processions. Every elaborate detail spoke of death, including the black dress uniforms that served as a backdrop to the blood-red symbols of death. People gathered to be part of a crowd, which was much safer for them than being alone. Breaking away from the crowd was to risk dying alone, so the people came together to avoid a solitary death.
From across the room, Siskind still sits; his eyes show a deep gratitude to Gladney for so generously sharing the “power and madness at his disposal.” Gladney has allowed his lofty subject, Hitler, to be associated with “an infinitely lesser figure,” Elvis. It is important for Gladney to maintain the untouchable aura of superiority of his subject matter, so this was a risk for him.
Now Gladney notices he has drawn a crowd, although he does not need a crowd around him now. Talking about death in this setting is a professional, objective matter, and Gladney has no fear of death now. Parting the crowd, Siskind leads Gladney away.