Friday, August 5, 2016

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Posted by A Drop of Romeo at 2:00 PM

Age: Adult
Category: Historical
Rating: 4 stars

Juliet Thinks: This novel, published in 1955, captures the essence of the unspoken struggle of veterans with PTSD after World War II. Mental illness, including PTSD, was not a subject about which people spoke. During this period, veterans returned from war, immediately immersed in office life; it is this sharp transition that leaves the protagonist disconnected and aimless. Wilson, drawing on his own experiences, describes the life of Tom Rath after war:
“I really don’t know what I was looking for when I got back from the war, but it seemed as though all I could see was a lot of bright young men in gray flannel suits rushing around New York in a frantic parade to nowhere. They seemed to me to be pursuing neither ideals nor happiness – they were pursuing a routine. For a long while I thought I was on the sidelines watching that parade, and it was quite a shock to glance down and see that I too was wearing a gray flannel suit.”
Tom Rath grapples with flashbacks and guilt about what he did during the war. His wife, Betsy, can sense that something about him has changed since his return from combat, but he has made the decision to not speak of the war to anyone. Apart from struggling with his past, he worries deeply about the future. 1950s was also the period of booming suburbia in the United States, so he feels pressured to conform to those ideals.

I truly appreciated this book because of the autobiographical aspect of it. Wilson's words resonated with depth and torment, allowing me to imagine the immense problem many countries were faced with after the end of WWII-- men struggling silently with PTSD in a world in which mental illness was an uncomfortable subject. It also captured the unhappiness of the 1950s, contrasting with the typical image one may have of 1950s America (perfect domesticity, Leave it to Beaver-style families in beautiful suburban homes).


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