APRIL 29, 1947
NEW YORK, Monday—There are advantages to having a few days of more or less enforced quiet. One gets a great many chores done which have been put aside for a leisurely moment, and one is able to enjoy the pleasure of more reading than usual.
The author of a novel on Tennessee life, Horace Marcus Coffey, has been asking me for a long time for an opinion on his novel. It is called "The Glass House." The material is interesting and shows how corrupt politics can flourish where ignorance and superstition reign and how the people of the hills can be victimized in this way. Of course, anyone who watches the Congressional scene must understand much that is spelled out in this book of fiction, and anyone who watches the political scene anywhere, whether in cities or in rural areas, knows it is lack of education that brings about indifference, poor government and exploitation of the people in a democracy. This book, however, is not the work of an expert writer, and you have a certain sense of amateurishness in the way the story is told.
* * *
On the other hand, a novel by Willard Motley called "Knock on Any Door" is one of the best written and most disturbing books I have read in a long time. The story is not new. Many of us have known families like the Romano family. But it is just because the book puts together and marshals before you all the evils of our democratic society that it is so disturbing. You cannot help wondering whether in this country, which is known as the leading world democracy, we should not examine more critically the results of our democracy in terms of what happens to so many human beings.
The sketches of various types of people in this book are beautifully done. They live—you can recognize them as you walk down almost any street. Reading this book made me walk around my neighborhood with a more curious eye, and it made me wonder just what I would find if I "knocked on any door." Many of the same characters, I am sure, as I found in this book.
* * *
I walked through Washington Square yesterday. It was sunny, and old men and women were sitting on the benches. A little crowd was gathered about two of the men, who play an unending game of checkers, but others sat alone. And as you looked at each face, you wondered what was going on back of the mask which hid the real human being who sat sunning himself, watching the children play and perhaps wondering what those children might be fifty or sixty years hence.
Washington Square is certainly the place where the two extremes of life meet—not only the extremes of age, but the extremes of rich and poor. This neighborhood can show you a quick transition from decent living to poverty and the Romano type of family described in "Knock on Any Door." I hope that this book will stir many people to action in their own communities, for it is in our individual communities that we build our nation.