Summer 2007


What is the role of a major century writer in a crumbling society?

As a social science major at New York University, I learned that some signs of a crumbling society are: abuse of power, attack on the weak, injustice, the illusion of justice, disparity between the haves and the have nots, increasing shootings in US schools, depletion of natural resources, war, the absence of peace, terrorism, obesity, greed of commerce, disintegration of families , the illusion of freedom of speech, insecurity, fear, illusion of security, indifference, no hope for the future, dehumanization, being mechanical or routine, inequality, illusion of equality living in our country while the rest of the world attempts to live on $1-$2 per day, and a society that is demeaning to women. Out of all of these symptoms, the one that struck me the most was “disintegration of families” because it is something that since I was a child I believe many take for granted. What is the role of a major century writer in a crumbling society?

First, I searched and found a definition for the term role as: an expected social behavior of an individual. After reading the definition, I recalled that when Benjamin Franklin created the printing press, it was to make a political statement. I believe that books are also a very powerful form of media. The ultimate major century writer is also one who has won the Nobel Prize on literature. The Nobel Prize is an annual award extended by the Nobel Foundation for the promotion of world peace throughout different fields such as: physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and economics.


Falling Man highlights the lives of a working middle class post September 11 th . Both the poor and the working poor also suffered the effects of September 11th. The middle class family in the story was broken before September 11 th , just like our crumbling society. The story tells of the reconciliation attempt of Keith and Lianne to reconnect with each other after the tragedy. During memorials, prayer services, and temporary grieving, our crumbling society vowed to never forget. Is catastrophe necessary to move a society to do good in the world? Just like Keith and Lianne, their desire to reunite was soon forgotten and old routine ways emerged.

Instead of being an active member of his family, Keith spent much time away from his family the way he did before 9-11. Our crumbling society also returned to its old ways with business as usual. We forgot about the pressing issues regarding terror by focusing on heros, healing and recovery. Our crumbling society encouraged us to go back to work as usual and into our routine way of life. Like robots, we obeyed instead of suffering and dwelling on the important issues related to this major event. We learned that Keith also dealt with issues about the horror distracting himself by playing poker with his friends, traveling to Las Vegas , and his sexual affairs with a woman who also survived the attacks in one of the towers. De Lillo depicts how our society reacts after terror. Individuals try to escape the reality of their time getting involved in pastimes that will not allow for them to reflect about what is going on. When Keith finally deals with some of the issues as a survivor of terror, is when he has these affairs in hiding with the other woman. It is in this place of isolation, that the major century writer believes our society reflects about our crumbling society. In real life, instead of dealing with important matters within the family nucleus our crumbling society prefers to retreat, feeling comfortable in solitude, alcoholism, drug addiction and in any vice or act that will numb the senses.


In The Secret Agent , Conrad describes a crumbling society by showing us what is really happening inside a middle class marriage. We learn of Winnie who is married to Verloc, the Secret Agent. In their life there were long absences, silence, lack of communication, and a loveless marriage. Women were expected to assume the burden of family life and be complacent to Victorian norms. Winnie and Verloc did not really know each other. Winnie was in a desperate situation and she chose to marry for money instead of love. Winnie had a responsibility to care for her elderly mother and retarded brother. Verloc had a business and spent most of his time outside of the home. In her society, she was expected to be submissive, not ask any questions even if she detected something seriously wrong with her husband's comings and goings. As a major century writer, Conrad depicted exactly what was going on in his crumbling society then and nothing has changed today. Heads of households still spend much time away from home to be able to provide for their families. Some individuals use their work responsibilities as an excuse to stay away from home and loveless marriages.

Today, many men still believe that the place of women is only in the home and to care for children. Today, a crumbling society is also demeaning to women. Despite civil rights movements and women's liberation efforts, assessments on worker compensation reveal women earn 33 cents less than men for every dollar earned in same or similar jobs. Some industries today, are dominated by men and there is very little representation of women on boards of directors. In Winnie's case, she was forced into her loveless marriage because of her incapacity to provide for herself. In a crumbling society, family disintegration forces girls and women into situations they would not want to be in when they are unable to provide a sustainable life for themselves.


In Hiroshima , Hersey describes a crumbling society as a decay of family life and the increase of orphans. In the case of Sasaki-San, she became responsible for her brother and sister although “her leg was badly bent, its knee frozen, and its thigh was atrophied by deep surgical incisions.” (p.120) They moved into an orphanage and Sasaki-San took up a job as an attendant. “Once she was convinced that her brother and sister were well cared for, she accepted a transfer to another orphanage (…) where it would be possible for her to receive professional child-care training”. Eventually, she studied at a university which qualified her as a nursery-school teacher. In our crumbling society, we see how the innocence of children is lost, and they are forced to manage adult responsibilities while growing up fast.

The orphanage where Sasaki-San worked surpassed its capacity of 40. Orphans emerged as the atomic bomb killed parents. Countless American soldiers took regular women and also prostitutes for themselves without assuming responsibility for the result of their actions. Some soldiers searched for the mothers and eventually married. On most occasions, they never sought their orphans. Hersey writes about the effect of war on children and families however, we already have this situation in our society without an atomic bomb being dropped in our country.


In All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque described how families dissolved as women and children were separated from their spouses and other loved ones who were the bread winners. Children were born while their fathers were at war. Some never had the chance to meet their fathers as they perished in war. Young children were forced to become men as they were sent away from their families to face battle. There were sacrifices that war demanded from ordinary people, both the soldiers in the front line and the people at home. From the physical perspective, it was difficult for people to fill the basic physiological needs. On the home front, women had to try to find work or look for other means to feed themselves. There was barely any food and when there was, it was rationed. “I pull myself together, and go with my sister to the slaughter house to get a pound or two of bones. (…) people line up early in the morning and stand waiting (…) We have no luck. After waiting by turns for three hours the queue disperses. The bones have not lasted out.” (p.179) At war, “Rations of food leave men hungry, desperately begging for more by the cook.” (p.38) In order to survive, they ate grass, killed geese, and ate horse flesh when the food rations were scarce. I wonder what our own soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are going through at this very moment. In or out of war, families in a crumbling society are unable to secure basic living needs.

As in the Myth of Sisyphus , we can spend our entire lives sleep walking, trying to climb up the corporate ladder without dawning on what is truly important in life, rolling that rock up the hill waiting for it to come down only to push it back up and do it all over again. One of the institutions that is extremely important in life is family. No one under any circumstance, no matter how difficult, should ever be deprived from the privilege of the family nucleus. It is a place where one can find company, comfort, laughter, support to deal with the most difficult pain in life, where one can be authentic and find peace and security. This is what is truly important.

In a crumbling society, the role, the expected social behavior of major century writers is to expose important issues which compel us to ask tough questions about ourselves and about our society. Throughout our history, we have heard people placing blame on others by saying: it's black people's fault, it's women's fault, it's gay people's fault, it's Muslims' fault, it's people from Afghanistan , it's Osama Bin Laden, it's the illegal immigrant. We look for anyone else to blame but ourselves. We have allowed situations to boil over to what it is today. The first step toward recovery is by admitting this to ourselves. We have all played a part but we can be active as agents of change or be complacent with the way things are.

Our social conditioning first is as children to obey our parents. As young adults, we are expected to follow the lead of our teachers and to obey the law. As adults, we expect very little of ourselves and turn to our professors, government, the media, and leaders for the answers. We ask too much of others and ask very little of ourselves. We cannot expect of others to answer what we cannot answer for ourselves. As for me, the role of a major century writer is to promote peace by raising the issues of our society, placing us in a path to what is meaningful and purposeful.

Historically, our US society is individualistic and reversal of thinking is paramount. Throughout my 20 year career in business I have discovered that over the last 15 years our society has inevitably entered a social revolution. This includes 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus and his effective work with micro financing/lending. Muhammad founded Grameen Bank which created opportunities for lending to the poor without collateral on the premise that credit is a basic human right, a model which, so far, has been emulated in 23 countries. Sparks of reversal of thinking can be traced back to the 1990's when Prudential Insurance began offering life insurance benefits to Aids patients while still living. Patients were able to afford better medical care and live the last years of their life as best as possible under the circumstances. Reversal of thinking will continue to thrive in our new century with a trickling down effect into other areas of our crumbling society and with a role for major century writers. This revolution will not be limited to how meteorologists forecast the weather and redefining parameters used by economists to evaluate or predict market performance. Major century writers have an important role in our crumbling society to raise tough questions and move us toward dialogue as agents of change.

During my academic progress at New York University , I have become familiar with Tom Bender who is considered as one of the American founders of green architecture and sustainability movements. Rich or poor, proletariat or bourgeoisie, we all have a role in our society. According to Bender “A community which lives only for the greed of commerce and consumption does not enjoy itself and does not enjoy life. Such a community has: a) not learned the incredible drama of life of which we are a part of and b) is not capable of creating sustaining bonds within itself, with its neighbors and with the natural world in which it is embedded.” (Wikipedia) In the postmodern era of ideas that we live in, reverse thinking is paramount if we are to contribute toward improving the drama of our lives of which we are a part of with the world scene as the stage. Our US American Society is defined as individualistic and founded on the greed of commerce. “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”-Albert Einstein