A Sad Heart at the Supermarket – Randall Jarrell

And what does it need? For us to need…Oh, it needs for us to do or be many things – to be workers, technicians, executives, soldiers, housewives. But first of all, last of all, it needs for us to be buyers; consumers; beings who want much and will want more – who want consistently and insatiably. Find some spell to make us no longer want the stoles, the records, and the weapons, and our world will change into something to us unimaginable. Find some spell to make us realize that the product or services which seemed yesterday an unthinkable luxury is today an inexorable necessity, and our world will go on.

In Randall Jarrell’s “Sad Heart at the Supermarket” we read of conditioned necessity paired with unattainability. The things many of us want and have are mere fantasy to so many; yet, we erase the fantasy by making their tragedies fantasies themselves.

So what of the migrant worker? What is a migrant worker? Surely people don’t really suffer around the world. We see statistics and images, but we see that in movies and television shows too. Is the news really different than the sitcoms and dramas that lull us into the evening? Are tragedies any more emotional on the big screen than in the living room? Has a movie ever made you cry? What about a newscast? What about an article in the paper?

I believe this portion of Jarrell’s essay is an excellent look at our ability to ignore reality. Our knowledge of tragedy and need lasts not a second longer than when the electricity leaves the machine – or the page is turned.  Images of luxury and excess that accompany your issue of TIME next to the images and stories of tragedies.  The commercials during the newscast ask you to buy, buy, buy.  So many suffer while the great debate is “will you by the new iphone?”

After driving for four or five minutes along the road outside my door, I come to a long row of one-room shacks about the size of kitchens, made out of used boards, metal signs, old tin roofs. To the people who live in them an electric dishwasher of one’s own is as much a fantasy as an ocean liner of one’s own. but since the Medium (and those whose thought is molded by it) does not perceive them, these people are themselves a fantasy: no matter how many millions of such exceptions to the general rule there are, they do not really exist, but have a kind of anomalous statistical subsistence: our moral and imaginative view of the world is no more affected by them than by the occupants of some home for the mentally deficient a little further along the road. If, some night, one of these outmoded, economically deficient ghosts should scratch at my windows, I could say only, “Come back twenty years ago.” And if I, as an old-fashioned one -room poet, a friend of “quite culture,” a “meek lover of the good,” should go out some night to scratch at another windows shouldn’t I hear someone’s indifferent or regretful, “Come back a century or two ago.”


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