Literature of success/ English 215
April 13, 2000
What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg is a brilliant book that shows the savagery, the insensitiveness, and cruelty caused by the drive for money, which characterized the general attitude of most people in America during the end of 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s. Sammy Glick, the main character in the book, is a poor Jewish boy who grows into an adult and spends all his life trying to get to the top of the hierarchy by knocking other people down. It is money, prestige, and power, which are most important for him. His mind is constantly occupied with thoughts of how to manipulate people and benefit from their hard work.
To understand why Sammy is always hostile and always cynical towards people?s good manners, one should probably look at Sammy?s childhood. Brought up in poverty, running without shoes on the streets, working from early age to help his father to pay the rent, and beaten every time he goes to school, Sammy quickly understands that to escape this miserable living, he has to work hard. Soon he learns how to play tricks on people to make more money. ?There is a guy on the opposite corner doin? pretty good ?cause he?s yellin? ?U.S. may enter war. So I asks a customer if there?s anything in the paper about that. So when he says no, I figure I can pull a fast one too. So I starts hollerin? ?U.S. enters war,? and jeez shoulda seen the rush!?(Schulberg 213).
Sammy doesn?t show any respect towards his closest relatives. It is natural for him to knock his brother down to get the messenger job. Working many hours and getting more money, Sammy ?was beginning to understand the secret of power?(220). He is not afraid of Sheik who used to beat him up every day at school.
Close to the age of thirteen, Sammy is already devoid of human feeling even towards his parents. The only thing he thinks about is money. Sammy does not respect the Jewish tradition any more. He will not be the ?bar mitzvah? his father wants him to be because, according to Sammy?s understanding, he has already become one. He does not visit the ?cheder? because there are more important things to do in life like making money, for example. It is difficult for ?Papa? to understand his own son. ?That?s all you think about, money, money…?(222) says his father. Sammy, however, already knows that ?It?s money in the pocket ? that?s what makes you fell like a man (222).
He does not even cry when his father passes away. His only reaction ?Is it over? (223) speaks of something not human. ?Sammy was thirteen, but he was a veteran; he had learned something that took the place of tears?(223). Sammy has formed a hard shell that protects him from all human feelings. His drive for money, control and annihilation of everything human is unsurpassable.
Sammy has an enormous amount of confidence. There is nothing that can stop him. Even the first day, when he goes to work for Al Manheim as an office boy at The Record, he boastfully declares: ?I?m the new office boy, but I ain?t going to be an office boy long?(3). Al Manheim is the other major character in the book. Compared to Sammy, he is much more considerable of other people and tries to teach Sammy of respect and compassion to others. All his words and bits of advice, however, come to a brick wall because it is difficult to change the path Sammy has chosen for himself. Later, on the day of his birthday at The Algonquin, when he makes the big strike towards publicity, it is not uncommon for him to say: ?Okay, I stink, ?but someday you?ll cut an arm for one little whiff?(27). Sammy is not afraid to speak openly to established writers in Hollywood. He is confident and selfish, fighting for every opportunity, obsessed by the one idea of self-promotion. ?I was just thinking about me. I just kept thinking nothing but me. I just kept saying Sammyglicksammyglick over and inside my head and it kept growing louder SAMMYGLICKSAMMYGLICK (33).
Insincerity in human relationship, unfairness in competition, disloyalty, disregard of others, these are some of the typical characteristics of Sammy Glick and of all the other people that try to imitate Sammy Glick. Sammy is fighter for money and publicity, a ruthless careerist. His constant drive to capture every opportunity that emerges on the horizon has absorbed everything human Sammy has ever possessed. He is unable to build a family or maintain a relationship. ?You are physically incapable of having friends?All you can ever have are enemies and stooges?(26). Doing favors is also not one of his best characteristics. ?I found out long ago that was a sucker?s trick. It leaves you wide open?(13). He is an individualist, relying on his own strengths and capabilities, and not letting anybody else in his realm. This is why he never allows Rosalie to come too close to him, and then, when he finally finds his love, it is hard for him understand that Laurette has her own private world and he is not to be let in it. The romantic and the sentimental cannot find a place in Sammy?s life. It is simply not natural for him.
Sammy Glick is a ?frantic marathoner? of life, ?springing out of his mother?s womb, turning life into a race in which the only rules are fight for the rail, and elbow on the turn, and the only finish-line is death?(xvii)
And the finish line soon comes to Sammy. He destroyed by all the characteristics he possesses. Alone, crying for friends, and people he can laugh with. ?My mind skipped from conquest to conquest, like the scrapbook on his exploits I had been keeping ever since that memorable birthday party at the Algonquin,? writes Al Manheim remembering of Sammy?s life. ?It was a terrifying and wonderful document, the record of where Sammy ran, and if you looked behind the picture and between the lines you might even discover what made him run. And some day I would like to see it published, as a blue print of a way of life that was paying dividends in America in the first half of the twentieth century?(276).
Sammy Glick is a ?victim of cultural conditions?(xvii) and poor living standards.
I think it is the Western civilization that created the Sammy Glicks. All the numerous opportunities for advancement and personal fulfillment make people forget what their life is really about. It is all image that counts. Other people judge how successful one is, by all the ?dead possessions? one has. People waste their lives sitting behind heavy wooden desks and watch cheap, ?crappy? movies from Hollywood, but forget about the simple pleasures in life. I would not imagine life without going to the mountain, feeling the breeze hit my forehead, and smelling the pleasant aroma of flowers and pines.
The Sammy-drive is still to be found everywhere in America, in every field of endeavor and among every racial group. It will survive as long as money and prestige and power are ends in themselves, running wild, unharnessed from usefulness (xiv).
The Moral Compass serves as a moral education. The different chapters and the stories they contain teach young people of hard work, perseverance, courage, compassion, responsibility, discipline, and many other virtues that a person should have, when he leaves his home-place in the search for self-fulfillment. Most of the stories included in the book constitute a journey. Each story is a ?moral compass? that guides humans through their lives. The book can also be used to build one?s character. Young children are susceptible to these teachings. Those stories create a model that children follow until they grow up.
The first chapter teaches that home is the most beloved place. A well built family, which is based on mutual respect and understanding between the spouses, enables the creative atmosphere that children need. Some stories like What Bradley Owed and The Boy Who Kissed His Mother reveal the altruistic love between a son and his mother.
I heard a footstep behind me,
And the sound of a merry laugh,
And I knew the heart it came from
Would be like a comforting staff
In the time and the hour of trouble,
Hopeful and brave and strong;
One of the hearts to lean on
When we think that things go wrong. (The Moral Compass 72)
Mother is always the one who takes care of her child. She is the one that has given life to him and he is part of her. Sometimes I have evidenced my own contempt towards my mother?s reproaches, but in the end I realize that everything she does, she does it for me. I love my mother, because she has always been the one help me and to give solace in my saddest and loneliest moments. I owe my mother most of my accomplishments, because she has been the one to encourage me and help me through the difficulties of life. ?And after that, he helped his mother for love?(22).
The following chapters in the book relate greediness and selfishness. The Miser, The Dog in the Manger, The Mouse Tower, and The Man Who Loved Money More Than Life are all witty stories about people?s affection with money. ?Bury a stone in the hole and fancy it is the gold. It will serve you just as well, for when the gold was there you made use of it?(176). Most of them try to teach the same lesson that Budd Schulberg tries to convey in What Makes Sammy Run. The lost pleasure of life, the constant drive for money deprives humans of their feelings. He raised taxes on the people over and over again. He built a tall tower of stone on an island in the river Rhine and would let no boat pass by without stopping and paying a toll in silver or gold?(424). It is hard for ordinary people to get their hands out of the money, once they have it. Often those die in loneliness, with no friends, and nobody who cares about them. It is funny how most of the people say, ?Having lots of money is a guarantee for better life?. I don?t believe in it, because many rich people have problems with their friends. The world is full of people with broken relationships and broken hearts. And this, in my opinion, is only because they chose money and popularity instead of what is dearest to them ? love.
Other stories teach readers of loyalty, confidence in one?s own strength, and honesty. A Truth Speaker teaches people to defend their principles even with the cost of their lives. ?He knew that by expressing his view honestly he would incur certain punishment?(324).
The honest farmer is another story that talks about a man?s respect and sacrifice for his neighbors. ?The first field of barley was better than this one?. ?That is true, sir?, answered the honest old man, ?but it was not mine?(262). It is integrity that helps people survive through the hard times of life.
Both What Makes Sammy Run and The Moral Compass are great books that will probably be read by many generations. Budd Schulberg tells readers what they must not turn into. Sammy, although admired by some, is an example of money-machine. No feelings, no emotions whatsoever. Only money. The Moral Compass, on the other hand, with its hundreds of beautifully narrated stories tells humans what qualities they should acquire through their journey in life. I, personally, cannot completely identify myself with any of these books. I like Sammy?s ambition, but only to a certain extent. I need the ambition that will help me use my hidden qualities. In the pursuit of my goals, I will stick close to my friends. I will respect every word and every meaning that The Moral Compass tries to convey. Although these stories may seem na?ve and stupid to many people, they certainly have power. It is we, our modern society that has made us cynical and defensive against the calls of The Moral Compass. It is, perhaps, our fault that we are corrupt and unable to understand these stories. Each of us has to look within himself, because most of the times guilt lies in ourselves.