Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary

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Because when times are bad people tend to overeat, the town of Blacksmith has a lot of overweight citizens. Everyone but the elderly seems to be in a “fever of eating.” Even though the elderly are not always mentally present, they are slim, healthy-looking, and well dressed.

Gladney walks to the open stadium behind the building where his wife is running up the stadium steps. He sits on the stone steps and watches her run to the top, stop to catch her breath for a few moments, and then walk back down the stairs. When she gets to the bottom, she stretches her neck and starts back up the steps. She is working hard. Gladney watches Babette perform this ritual three times before he meets her at the edge of the playing field and gives her a hug.

Babette is not afraid to get her hands dirty or to work up a sweat; in addition to running, she caulks and shovels snow. She plays word games with Wilder and reads erotic books aloud to Gladney in bed at night; she talks to animals and plans trips they will never take. Gladney, on the other hand, swims laps in the college pool, takes out the trash, and is easily frightened. Sometimes Gladney wonders who of them will die first.

As Gladney hugs his wife, a throng of uniformed girls appears and starts running on the cinder track. On the way home, they pass a string of hotels and Gladney says that Bee wants to visit at Christmas and can stay in Steffie’s room. Bee is Gladney’s seventh-grade daughter from his marriage to Tweedy Browner. She and her mother live in a Washington suburb, and Bee is having some difficulties adjusting after spending two years in South Korea. The girls met once at Disney World three years ago, so it will be fine.

That night the six Gladneys order Chinese food and watch television. Babette has a rule that the family must watch television together one night a week, hoping this will somehow “de-glamorize” television and reduce its power over the children—that “its narcotic undertow and eerie diseased brain-sucking power would be gradually reduced.” In reality, the evening is a kind of torture for all of them. After the family television-watching, Gladney usually reads about Hitler for hours.

In 1968, the college chancellor advised Gladney that he had to change his name and appearance if he wanted to be taken seriously as a Hitler authority. Jack Gladney willingly transformed himself into J.A.K. Gladney, although the change never really fit him well. At the time, Gladney was tall with big hands and feet, but the chancellor felt he needed to be more substantial; he seemed to be saying that if Gladney could somehow become uglier, his career would benefit enormously. Gladney has worked on this goal by, among other things, wearing thick, dark glasses. He has a created a false character for his false name. 

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