on the line on the line on the line

I really welcomed the change in styles that On The Line provides in contrast to the two earlier novels we’ve discussed. I think there was a drastic difference in how Swados attempts to explore the working class novel. In no way does it seem that Swados is trying to “wow” the reader with beautiful language, he simply states, rather matter-of-factually, the  conditions that these characters go through, which I think really enhances the novel in a way that add an almost “meta” layer to the novel. When I first began to read the novel, I had no idea that it was going to feature medium length vignettes in almost the Winesburg, Ohio type mold; I thought the entire novel was going to chronicle Leeroy and his ambitions to become a singer in the Metropolitan Choir and support his pregnant wife and how the factory line shaped and affected his life. While it does not pan out this way, by the end of Leeroy’s story and the end of Kevin’s I think it becomes sort of apparent that each character’s story is almost one section of the assembly line, and as a reader you’re working on it yourself. Predictably, the novel becomes extremely predictable, just like the line. As a reader, I felt almost like Kevin, I was intrigued by Leeroy’s story the same way Kevin was inititially intrigued coming to the factory everyday seeing the machines they controlled and the almost majestic fruits of their labor…for a while, but as the novel progresses and you realize the characters will never get what they want it almost becomes drudgery in the same vein as the novel’s characters. You slave through the bland but descriptive writing not because you’re excited, or even invested…it’s more like watching a car crash, you just have to. You see the characters walking down the road counting their eggs and you know they won’t hatch, you’re just waiting for the expected tragedy.  You’re not really reading to know what happens next, you know what happens next: someone has a dream they are chasing, they come close to achieving it or they achieve it, then everything comes crumbling down or even worse, they achieve their dream to realize it amounts to nothing. We see this with Leroy getting his vocal chords severed, never to sing again; we see it with Kevin, achieving a small piece of the American dream, only to see that the same dream has been sold to hundreds of thousands of others, maybe even millions. By the time we get to Pop’s narrative, we know that him buying a car for his son will only end in tragedy, we simply don’t know how yet. All we can do is keep reading until it is over. I think this greatly mirrors life on the line and the shape of the novel. In a sense the line just keeps coming, you know what is on it and you know what you have to do, but when you do it, what then, but to do it again? In that sense, the characters are consumed by the line, slowly but surely until everything outside of what they do at the factory is almost non-consequential; all that matters is that work the line. Leeroy has no more dreams all he has is his job that he needs to feed his family. Kevin has lost all the novelty that made him different from the other workers and is now just another big bodied, fully conformed ‘cussin’ American. Pop becomes an annoying stickler of a foreman after losing his son. The only person we see really escape the Line is the disappearin’ American, Joe, and even he is still bound by the line in some sense. While he’s disappeared from this particular factory line, we know that eventually he is sure to pop up on another one somewhere here or there, ultimately there really is no escape for the workers and there is no escape for the reader. We have no hope for a happy ending, but like the characters on the line, what else is there to do but keep going?

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One thought on “on the line on the line on the line

  1. Thoughtful response that connects the form of the story cycle to its theme. As we’ll see, there is a counter-discourse to the motif of isolation and repetitiveness: the union starts to emerge as a bit of a haven at the end of the collection, but as Ruth points out above, Swados seems unable to escape an individualist perspective in the larger frame of the book.

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