RE: RARA-AVIS: McGee on work

Date: 06 Apr 2001

Isn't it interesting how some of us are turning back to Travis McGee?

Recently had occasion to reread Tan and Sandy Silence--for a popular library discussion series--and was struck by McGee's rejection of what would seem the Ideal Life, no work required. Jilly, well-endowed in both senses, wants him to yacht around with her, and he can't say yes, even though he grants her point that he is getting a step slow, losing his edge. He pictures the men in that kind of life, subservient though well cushioned; he even has an imaginary dialogue about this option with Papa Hemingway, arguing a bit with the notion that the moral choice is what you feel good after. He doesn't feel good or bad. His conclusion is that he will keep working because he doesn't want to give up his personal sense of morality (the tinpot knight motive):

"Jillian Brent-Archer is another name for giving up your fatuous, self-serving morality, and when you give it up, you feel grainy, studlike, secure, and that doggy little smirk becomes ineradicable...You retain the fragile self-respect by giving Them the increasingly good chance of ventilating your skull..." (83)

So I guess he's really with Hemingway, in a sense: he may doubt the worth of what he's doing, but he feels right (good) doing it. As my favorite pre-noir writer once said, the important thing is to have some sort belief you can bow down and worship. One of the few things he believed in was the value of honest work. (Conrad in Heart of Darkness)

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