Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955)

Tom, his wife Betsy, and their three kids live in the Connecticut suburbs. Tom commutes to work in Manhattan. They hate their average house, need a new car, and constantly worry about how they are going to make ends meet. Tom works for a foundation but accepts a new position with the United Broadcast Corporation in order to make more money. Out of fear, he begins to play corporate games, telling others what he thinks they want to hear and trying to judge people's positions so he can mimic them. As time goes on, the problems begin to mount, both personal and financial. The couple no longer feel pleasure and the harder they work at their perceived goals toward happiness, the more dissatisfied they become with their lives. It isn't until Tom becomes honest with himself, his boss, and his wife that they find the contentment they seek.

To a lesser degree, the story is also about mental illness, the discomfort people feel discussing it, and the lack of understanding people have about it. Tom is charged with running a campaign to promote an awareness about mental illness yet he suffers from PTSD and doesn't recognize his condition. He wonders how he can be rewarded for having killed seventeen men in the war yet potentially ostracized for having fathered a child during the same time period.

In the same vein, Tom's boss works non-stop from morning until late at night in spite of the toll it has on his health and the damage it does to his family relations. Tom tries to perform at the same level but eventually decides he'd rather work a standard 9 to 5 job and spend more time with his family.

Many of the issues Sloan Wilson presents in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" are ones we still wrestle with today: debt, overwork, consumerism, dissatisfaction, and a lack of honesty to self.

To find on amazon: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

1 comment:

Siobhan said...

Wow - I will check this book out - thank you!