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From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Monday, January 23, 2012

Archy argues Beauty is privileged


  ". . . beauty gets the best of it in this world," says Archy.  Archy thinks, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  He should know. As a cockroach, considered by many to be the ugliest insect, he has personal experience with beauty, or rather the lack of it.   Archy has a poet's sensitive soul since in a former life he was a poet.  archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis has been one of my very favorite books since 11th grade high school English when Mr. Pickens would occasionally read a chapter or two to us. 

In his newspaper column "The Sun Dial," back in 1916, Don Marquis first introduced archy the cockroach and his friend mehitabel, a cat who in a former life was Cleopatra,   Though nearly a century old, archy's philosophy and mehitabel's life style are very contemporary.  Archy records their observations and rhymes on "the boss's" typewriter late at night when the newspaper is closed.  He types by diving headfirst on the keys, but since he cannot hold down the shift key and jump, everything comes out in lower case with no punctuation.  

Archy and mehitable's comments are humorous, wry observations about life and society.  In the chapter about beauty titled "unjust."  Archy laments on the injustice of the favoritism shown to the beautiful.  He says that in the insect world only the moth and the butterfly are tolerated and that is because of their beauty.  He finds this particularly unfair because when he was a poet, he was not handsome.  It seems only fair to him that he should have transmigrated into the body of a butterfly to make up for it.

Archy observes in another chapter that a hen regrets having her neck wrung just as much as an oriole would, but nobody has sympathy for the hen because she is not beautiful.  Archy is distressed because a man almost squashed him when they were riding in an elevator . . . "if I had been a butterfly he would have said how did that beautiful thing happen to find its way into these grimy city streets do not harm the splendid creature."  He ends the account with advice to "boss."  
"Be beautiful boss and let who will be clever is the sad advice of your ugly little friend."

Archy seems to be saying that beauty equals worthiness.  Those who are not beautiful have little value.  There are those who act as if they accept this and like Archy devalue themselves if they lack beauty. This is the stuff of novels and movies.  How many have there been with some variation of this theme.

Mehitable's motto is toujours gai and there is the impression that she has been a good time girl in all of her nine lives.  One of her songs goes

                                                     there s a dance or two
                                                     in the old dame yet
                                                     believe me you
                                                     there s a dance or two
                                                     before i m through
                                                     you get me pet
                                                     there s a dance or two
                                                     in the old dame yet

She has a number of gentlemen friends, but she tells them she is wary of marriage.  She does have kittens though, which strangely disappear.  She tells Archy, ". . . 

                                                    the palaces I have
                                                    been kicked out of 
                                                    in my time 
                                                    exclamation point 
                                                    but wotthehell
                                                    little archy wot
                                                    thehell
                                                    it s cheerio
                                                   my deario
                                                   that pulls a
                                                   lady through
                                                  exclamation point

Both archy and mehitable are somewhat bohemian, and they are charming.  Aren't we lucky that Don Marquis and his newspaper companions saw Archy at work on the typewriter one night and so when they left for the day always left a blank sheet of paper in the machine for his use. (Well, that is Don Marquis's story) If not, we would never have heard about the lightning bug  named Broadway because he flashed like a neon sign, but sadly when he wore himself out, mehitabel the cat ate him.  Archy and mehitabel also have adventures in Europe.  Archy resides for a while in Westminster Abby in London and mehitabel lives in the Paris catacombs with several toms of questionable virtue.  

If you need a smile or a lift , buy or check out a copy of  archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis.  You won't be disappointed.
As Archy says, 
  " . . . the main question is 
   whether the stuff is  
   literature or not."

This old English teacher says it is.     
   

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