Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
D. The Fountain Square
Emma Bell Miles began the Fountain Square Conversations within a week of accepting a post as reporter for the News. The first column ran on Friday, April 3, 1914. The subsequent thirty-two were published at two- to three-day intervals, the last in the series appearing on June 30, 1914, the last day she worked for the paper. She experimented with length; though each "conversation" averages from 1200 to 1500 words, some are as short as 600 (June 20, 1914) while others seem to have been divided into two separate columns (May 19 and 21, 1914). She seems to have been unbothered by practical considerations of space limitation. Some of the shorter columns are printed in nice rectangular blocks while the longer ones snake their way down the page in order to accommodate their length.
The columns take the form of philosophic dialogues which no doubt lent themselves to such an open-ended approach. The speakers are the animal visitors to the fountain of the column's title. For the most part these are birds who have come to bathe in its basins, but they also include an occasional cat, a tree toad and the iron statue of the Fireman who stands at the fountain's summit. These disputants cajole, argue, tell stories, joke, even rhapsodize in the course of conversations which touch on a wide range of progressivist topics: sanitation reform; child labor laws; the need for urban planning; improvements in food production; universal peace; rural life vs. city life; the woman's suffrage movement, etc. In using animals, particularly birds, to make sense of what their human "superiors" cannot, the Fountain Square Conversations belong to a venerable literary tradition as old as Farid al-Din Attar's The Conference of Birds (c. 1200 C.E.) or Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls (c. 1382 C.E.).
Clearly, Miles envisaged the Fountain Square Conversations as something more than cute chit-chat carried on by cartoonish birds. Nor did she simply seek a platform from which to launch progressivist polemics. She was too aware of the paradoxes within the reform movement--such as its paternalism and its blind faith in technology--to act as its cheerleader. Rather, she sought to expose these paradoxes and offer an ideological foundation for a more radical reconstitution of southern society no longer at odds with what she considered the "natural" progress of universal evolution. For instance, Miles seems to have been less interested in the political expedients necessary for women's suffrage than in philosophic consideration of women's biological and social roles in sustaining human evolution. Almost from its inception, Miles strove to give the conversations as a whole a sense of organic unity, and hence enduring literary value, to what otherwise might have been a hodgepodge of ephemeral "op-ed" pieces. In addition to the interconnectedness of the speakers and the drama of their confrontations, she returned to certain key themes, such as evolution and transcendentalism, to unify the columns and lend them philosophic weight.
Miles selected Fountain Square Park as the locus of her signed column for several reasons. First, it was close. Her apartment literally overlooked the tiny park, a triangle of green in the midst of Georgia Avenue between the Frances Willard Home and the Hamilton County Courthouse. Second, it satisfied her naturalist's desire to observe wildlife--a desire restricted in the urban bustle of downtown Chattanooga. Finally, the fountain itself was a well-known local landmark, erected on June 9, 1888, to commemorate the deaths of two Chattanooga firemen. The black, cast-iron fountain (which stands today) was an impressive monument, rising some fifteen feet into the air and crowned by a four-foot statue of the upward-gazing fireman. The jet of water from the fireman's hose filled a triple tier of expanding basins which attracted numerous birds, especially in the sweltering heat of the Chattanooga summer. In Miles' day, a small, cast-iron fence surrounded the Park, making it into a bird sanctuary of sorts (in the column of April 14 it keeps out a predatory cat).
Many of the Fountain Square Conversations are set during the early morning and twilight hours--not only because birds were plentiful at these times of day, but also because Miles had the leisure to watch them from the window of her apartment before and after work. Her own "bird's eye view" of the proceedings in and above the fountain lends the column its magical realism. While investing the birds with human speech, Miles nevertheless tries to see as a real bird might see, to hear as it hears. For instance, the column of May 2, 1914, opens with an aerial approach:
The two doves who oftenest converse with the iron Fireman were leisurely crossing the city with the perfect and wonderful grace of birds who have mastered the art of flight, with almost no perceptible motion of the wings. They had been way--perhaps foraging about the feed and grain stores . . . perhaps picking up gravel on the lonely roof spaces, those miniature Saharas that are just overhead and yet as remote as Kamschaika from the city's life--and were now making their way back to the fountain. (7)
reference to "lonely roof spaces" suggests that Miles may have occasionally
resorted to the roof of the Willard home for the peace and quiet she needed to contemplate
the birds and to compose her conversations. Whether from roof or window, Miles had the
vantage point to make a very exact catalogue of the Square itself. In the column dated May
7, 1914, she notes boxhedges, cinnamon ferns, clover, "fiddle-heads" and even a
magnolia tree in a square that magnified itself almost into a private world; the small
patch of green beams "as gladly as though surrounded by acres of meadows or miles of
forest instead of by a square of asphalt that resounds to a constant stream of traffic
beating to and fro" (7).
Sparrows and Pigeons
If Miles maintains a high degree of realism in setting, she also uses surprisingly "realistic" dialogue in the conversations themselves. The numerous birds, the Fireman and other visitors represent a range of social classes and attendant ideologies. Miles peppers the Sparrow's speech with colorful slang to portray him as a streetwise member of the working class. He is an aggressive disputant who does not hesitate to make ad hominem attacks. In an early column the townbred Sparrow accuses a Cardinal of "stringin'" their listeners with his happy tales of farm life and adds derisively: "There's nothing in the country but hard work and poor pay" (4/13/14:7). The Sparrow takes on an increasingly proletarian caste as the series develops. Perhaps with a nod to Marx, Miles refers to him as a "little materialist" (5/28/14:6) and portrays his species as being pragmatic and political; "a heated argument among half a dozen politically-minded sparrows" (4/11/14:7) takes place, appropriately, on the nearby courthouse steps. The Sparrow is quick to see through the high-minded pretensions of his fellow disputants. For instance, when the birds discuss the miracle of evolution, the Sparrow, "who carried his soul in his little stomach" (5/7/14:7), turns the topic to a more practical concern--the role sparrows play in reducing the number of insects. At one point the Sparrow even proposes that the birds go on strike in order to remind Man of their vital environmental role.
Miles clearly admires the Sparrow's pragmatism, which continually deflates the paternalistic rhetoric of the column's "progressive" voices--the Gray and White Pigeons, larger birds whose size represents their higher social status. These suffer the Sparrow's quarrelsome presence, often reminding him of their superiority. In response to the Sparrow's call for a strike, the Gray Pigeon patronizingly reminds the "little fellow" that Pigeons do not feed on lowly "insect pests." Comfortable with the status quo, the Gray Pigeon adds that each creature must accept its place in the order of Nature. If the Sparrow is hotheaded and impulsive, constantly espousing radical opinions, the Pigeons pursue a lukewarm liberalism that is more comfortable with generalizations than specific details. For instance, the Gray Pigeon uses the Park's ornamental cannon as springboard to a grand reflection on the progressivist goal of universal peace: "Yonder is a group of buildings representing some of the greatest activities of civilization--the library, three churches in view, and the Times building, not to speak of the shops; and in the foreground, half hid among greenery, this archaic survival of the age of brute force" (5/14/14:7). Yet the Pigeon has no practical solution to the dilemma of war--and in blaming it solely on primitive impulses, he overlooks its genesis in the very kind of social hierarchy which grants him a privileged position. Indeed, it is the Sparrow who insists that modern wars must be fought "to right the wrongs of industrialism."
Miles' ambivalence toward the Pigeons is even more pronounced when the conversation turns to the women's suffrage movement. While the Gray Pigeon lauds movement, he is not sure that it is entirely necessary in the South: "Many, if not most, southern women feel that it is ungracious to insist on the vote while receiving only the most generous treatment at the hands of men; but it should be remembered that not all women in our section are so fortunately situated as those on our block" (4/3/14:7). While he acknowledges a world beyond his own upper-middle class existence, the Gray Pigeon still clings to the paternalistic vision of woman as wife, mother and homemaker, a beautiful and delicate ornament unfit for the hustle and bustle of the polling booth. In response to his equivocation, the Hensparrow confronts him, "Do you mean you're for suffrage?" Confronted by political reality, the Gray Pigeon replies sourly, "Don't know that I am. . . . It's coming for better or worse."
The White Pigeon, the Gray's female counterpart, is also a paradoxical progressive. An "arch-peacemaker" (5/26/14:7), she is subject to the upper-middle class mores that prohibit the genteel woman from participating in political arguments. In an early column she finds herself in unwilling debate with an antisuffragist cat, who has slipped through the fence. She tepidly defends women's participation in progressivist social organizations such as the Kosmos or City Beautiful Clubs: "It is entirely for the good of their race . . . that their instinct for motherhood and for social service be cultivated" (4/15/14:7). She sees further benefit in the women's suffrage movement, arguing that it has eased class tensions by creating a political alliance between upper class women and their "housemaids and cooks." The column's conclusion underscores the White Pigeon's self-imposed naivete as the cat suddenly leaps upward and almost catches a pair of sparrows. Despite her best intentions, the White Pigeon fails to understand that politics are rooted in social conflict. She reveals Miles' impatience with elite woman who "are like the magnolia flowers--frail without being the finer for their frailty" and who are unable to "relinquish superficial special courtesies for fundamental justice" (6/15/14:7).
No doubt Miles viewed herself more as Sparrow than Pigeon. Yet it shows her talent as a writer to look beyond her own situation, to submerge her own class grievances, in order to create an artistic work that presents remarkably various points of view. Her skill at subtly defining character is manifest in the Gray and White Pigeons. Hardly carbon copies, the pair act as parameters of the upper-middle class intelligentsia. The Gray Pigeon, something of a naturalist, provides exact scientific description of a newly-hatched cicada in the column of June 25, 1914; however, the White Pigeon responds aesthetically to its beauty: "Only think--to be able to fly, after all those dark and lonely years in an underground prison! To have the sun and the air and its own flowing well of maple sap!" (6). Indeed, her poetic commentary is not far removed from the style Miles herself uses in her prose-poem editorials. In this respect, the birds can become aspects of the author herself. The Gray Pigeon speaks for Miles the naturalist, the White for Miles the poet and the Sparrow for the wife and mother scraping by to keep her family together.
The Fountain Square
Conversations are not limited to Sparrows and Pigeons, representatives, respectively,
of the working and upper classes. Miles introduces a number of dialectical oppositions
that complicate and broaden her dialogues. Thus the Sparrows are contrasted with their
country cousins the Wrens, representative of the rural poor. In opposition to those
missionaries and settlement workers who would bring "civilization" to the
backwoods, Miles stubbornly defends the rural way of life, which, if hard, is far more
wholesome than that of poor city dwellers. Products of an organic environment, the Wrens
"are less disagreeably bumptious and quarrelsome than the street Sparrows, but quite
as talkative, keeping a sunshiny warble for every hour of the day" (4/27/14:7). Miles
takes her dialectical format to a more abstract level in the column of May 12, 1914, which
illustrates, in the words of William Blake's Songs Of Innocence and Of Experience,
"the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul" (7). An eternal pessimist Chat
argues that life is characterized by senseless suffering and blasted hopes while the
eternal optimist Wood Thrush sees new opportunities and hopes arise with each new morning.
The iron Fireman is both the most enigmatic and important character in the series. Unlike the other characters, he has no direct opponent. All the birds defer to him--letting him serve as arbiter of their disputes. Often he does not speak until the end of a column where he is allowed the final word. As the series progresses, this final word often takes up a good portion of the column itself and transforms the "conversation" into a monologue. It is no accident that the series opens with a description of him:
Spring has come to Fountain square, as to the whole wide land; but in the midst of its tender beauty the iron fireman stands rigid as if frozen. He never bows to the fiercest storms, nor forgets himself in the soft insistence of the sunshine; he never glances at the throng that sluices past the three sides of the tiny park; he does not even lower his gaze to the green-misted treetops around the courthouse; he looks steadfastly up into the sky. One may think of him as harsh and stern, but the birds know better. For them he has always a drink and a bath ready, and rest, and sanctuary from cats and popguns. And in return for his unfailing hospitality they bring him the news, straight and sure from its sources, of all that goes on within the city limits and even from far beyond.
Had you observed that the pigeons and sparrows of Chattanooga display an intelligent interest in current events and civic affairs? Well, it is due to the fireman's influence. (4/3/14:7)
The Fireman suffers no opposition because he seems to have transcended the world of duality. Miles makes symbolic use of the fact that the fireman's gaze is ever fixed on the infinite expanse of sky. Yet while Miles obviously admires his stoic transcendentalism and his ability for intellectual abstraction, she nevertheless suggests that these are not sufficient by themselves. A paradoxical figure, the Fireman is literally surrounded by fluid--both air and water--yet remains himself "rigid as if frozen." Ironically, he can appreciate the realm of pure "spirit" represented by those fluid elements, but he cannot fully partake of them. Furthermore, he exists in a symbiotic relationship with the birds who act as his "eyes and ears." When the White Pigeon asks the Fireman if he knows that Spring has arrived, the Sparrow inserts impudently that he "[k]nows what we tell him" (4/3/14:7). The birds act as senses to the Fireman who represents Intellect or Higher Reason. The second column places this symbiosis on an almost telepathic level: "There was little talk for some time, but it was felt that the Fireman was thinking" (4/6/14:7).
When the Fireman does enter the conversation, it is usually to pronounce judgement. For instance, in the first column, the birds discuss the case of a teenage boy sent to the penitentiary for armed robbery. In accordance with the progressive debate on penal reform, the birds argue over the degree to which society is responsible for creating criminals and what punishment the teenager deserves. But in the end they defer to the Fireman:
the White Pigeon appealed to the erect figure above them, "couldn't they find a
"They will!" promised the Fireman, gravely, speaking for the first time.
The Sparrow's chirp was incredulous and impertinent. "My fledglings may
see things I only hear about!" said
But nothing ever worried the Fireman. He looks up till he seems to himself to be floating
through the blue gulfs overhead; he knows there is enough clean air flowing over and
around the planet to wash away all the guilt and grossness of the world. (4/3/14:7)
The Fireman's presence indicates that the Pigeons' progressivism must look beyond materialistic solutions--better prisons, better jobs--if it is to succeed. While his universal meliorism may seem cold given the tragic circumstances (hence the Sparrow's "impertinent" reply), Miles makes it clear that a transcendental spirit, represented by the "clean air flowing over and around the planet," retains the ultimate power to reform society. However, the Sparrow's crucial interruption in the dialogue underscores Miles' insistence that a faith in universal meliorism does not allow her audience to wash its hands of pressing social problems. Only those who have connected in love and compassion to their fellow beings truly partake of the transcendental spirit.
The Fireman, like the birds, can been seen as yet another aspect of Miles herself. Indeed, she seems to welcome the comparison in the following description: "The Fireman feels, however, that the world of men is a trifling affair, easily forgotten when one is enjoying the society of birds, or absorbed in following the faint, far ways of the stars" (4/27/14:7). Later in the conversation, Miles locates the source of her transcendentalism with an allusion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. This subtle act of homage may explain why the Fireman's monologues so often read like Emersonian essays. For instance, the Fireman's dissertation on war rambles casually through its subject and is liberally sprinkled with detachable epigrams: "The courage and toil of industry, when rightly undertaken, are higher than the valor of war"; "men formerly gloried in warfare, and now apologize for it as they do for prisons"; and "Revenge was once spoken of as 'the noble passion' par excellence. Today it is a mean, even a ridiculous, thing, below even melodrama" (5/14/14:7). The Fireman even represents the bygone era of the warrior with Napoleon, one of Emerson's Representative Men.
The Fireman's "telepathic" union with the birds also recalls the "Over-Soul" which Emerson defines as "that Unity . . . within each man's particular being . . . contained and made one with every other," and which is "the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE" (II:269). This "wise silence" characterizes the Fireman; even when he does not speak, his presence is felt. Yet Miles also emphasizes his solitariness the same way Emerson refers to the Over-Soul as the "Lonely, Original and Pure" (II:296). When the Fireman does join the conversation, his words often take on a lofty, almost divine tone--as if he were some lonely deity used to talking to himself.
While the Fireman is
the privileged voice in the Fountain Square Conversations, he is not the final
voice. The dialogic nature of the columns prevents them from becoming too single-minded or
didactic. The multiplicity of voices--each conflicting, yet each representing different
facets of Miles' own, highly compartmentalized existence--is perhaps a more palatable
illustration of spirit than Emerson's solitary omniscience. The latter's essays (like
"The Over-Soul") present the spectacle of a single authorized voice, which while
admitting that "Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul"
(II:292), is content to pile universal statement upon universal statement. Despite the
presence of the universalizing Fireman, Miles' conversations, however, suggest that the
presence of the spirit lies not in what is said so much as in the gaps between often
eloquent words. This spirit, evident in the fellowship between the characters, suffuses
the conversations rather than dictates them.
The Good Gray Mother
If the Fireman has his roots in Emerson, he also owes a substantial debt to the British philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer (1820-1903), one of the most respected thinkers in the nineteenth century who could count Charles Darwin as an admirer, is best remembered today for his catch-phrase "survival of the fittest." While this phrase seems to emphasize the blindness and brutality of biological evolution, Spencer was actually, in the words of Richard Hofstadter, "more concerned with mental than physical evolution" (392). Thus he rejected Darwin's emphasis on natural selection as the principle mechanism of evolution, preferring instead Jean Baptiste Lamarck's older belief in the inheritance of acquired characters. While Darwin's theory rested ultimately on chance, that is, upon the successful transmission of random variations, Lamarck's proposed that learned behavior could be passed physically from one generation to the next. Further, Lamarck believed that as these learned behaviors--and the physical mutations that accompanied them--accumulated, new species would develop. Hofstadter explains: "[Lamarckian] doctrine confirmed [Spencer's] evolutionary optimism. For if mental as well as physical characteristics could be inherited, the intellectual powers of the race would become cumulatively greater, and over several generations the ideal man would finally be developed" (393). Spencer's optimism about human evolution was simply part of a larger belief in "universal evolution." His life's work was an ambitious attempt to create a "synthetic philosophy" which would find uniform evolutionary principles at work in disciplines as diverse as biology, sociology, psychology and ethics. Spencer, who believed that all life had its origin in the "Unknowable," defined evolution as the engine of universal meliorism.
Miles seems to have been particularly drawn to Spencer's ideas about sociology and ethics. She borrows his three-fold division of primitive, barbaric and industrial cultures, as well as his definition of society as an organic "aggregate," whose sum is greater than the whole of its parts. She also adopts his beliefs in individual freedom and altruism as the principle forces at work in "higher" social evolution. However, she does seem to have disagreed with his laissez faire position on political and economic matters. While Spencer lauded private charity as a means of developing the giver's sense of altruism, he believed public welfare measures (such as poor laws, public education and housing regulations) to be counter-productive to social evolution by perpetuating the socially "unfit." Miles shows her impatience with such ideas in the column (4/6/14:7), mentioned above, in which the Sparrow and Fireman discuss the fate of a teenage criminal. While the Fireman foresees an enlightened future in which teens will be reformed rather than incarcerated, Sparrow does not share this bland Spencerian optimism.
While Miles may differ
with Spencer on specific issues, her evolutionary thinking, on the whole, remains
distinctly Spencerian in its belief in an ineffable creative force behind universal
evolution. The Fountain Square Conversations do not explain so much as dramatize
this mysterious force. The Fireman asserts in the column of May 7, 1914:
"See that oak beside the courthouse across the street? It is a thing for the city to be proud of. Its grand, proud lines are a very passion of strength hurled at the sky. . . . Day and night it sucks the juices of the soil and transforms them into forms of life and beauty. Each year it utters itself into myriads of leaves, joyous leaves, a trembling world of leaves, each islanded in the lambent, limpid air." (7)
The tree's ascent mirrors that of nature;
as it grows more bountiful and complex so does the natural world. Spencer's mysterious
force becomes, in the words of the Fireman (whose name takes on added significance),
"that Green Fire which vitalizes the earth" (5/7/14:7). Miles sees this natural
force not as external shaper--a male figure capable of penetrating and then withdrawing
from the material world (like the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition). Rather she
identifies it as an internal organic process--like a mother giving birth. Miles takes
Spencer's abstract "Unknowable" and gives it a distinctly feminine form as
"the Good Gray Mother," whom the Fireman introduces:
am glad that our little square here is nearly surrounded by gracious presences of green;
that almost all the streets that radiate from this point are overshadowed with their
boughs. I like to feel them constantly around me, incessantly at work for the uplift of
mere inorganic matter into something higher and finer and more complex, into the
Scriptural 'life more abundant' which is the Good Gray Mother's end and aim in a material
sense, as it is that of the divine will in a spiritual sense." (5/7/14:7)
The Good Gray Mother is Miles' vision of Earth as a living organism (similar to James Lovelock's recent "Gaia" hypothesis which views "the entire range of matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae . . . as a single living entity" (9)). By juxtaposing the Good Gray Mother and the God the Father of Judeo-Christian tradition, Miles inverts traditional hierarchies of masculine and feminine, spirit and matter. To counteract centuries of patriarchal domination, she personifies the female aspect of creation (which the Judeo-Christian tradition has reduced to the abstraction "Nature") but renders as abstract its commonly personified male creator (here designated by the neuter "divine will"). Scientifically, the Good Gray Mother is Miles' rebuttal to Spencer's masculinist emphasis on competition as the driving force of evolution rather than "feminine" values such as sympathy or cooperation.
Miles' notion of the Good Gray Mother leads to some unexpected positions on political issues--particularly in regard to the suffrage movement. For instance, in one column the Wren and the Gray Pigeon compare the plight of the poor country woman to her urban counterpart. According to the Gray Pigeon's progressive, yet elitest view, the country woman is worse off than her urban sisters "because she is ignorant and alone" (5/21/14:7). The Wren fires back: "Hasn't she compensations, not to say real advantages of her own? The Good Gray Mother's chiefest blessings are for those who live close to her and work with real life-stuff, planting seeds, tending young creatures. There is in such work something that raises it above drudgery." Miles had firsthand experience with such work, having spent much of her adult life engaged in it, stealing time between chores to write fiction and poetry. While she often grumbles about domestic duties in her diary and her published writings, she is also a staunch defender of "women's work" in The Spirit of the Mountains and the Fountain Square Conversations. No doubt, she appeared to some feminists in the women's suffrage movement as an oddball, if not a closet reactionary. For while Miles prates on about the Good Gray Mother, the feminists in the movement saw the vote as a stepping stone to economic and social parity with men.
Comments like the
Wren's reveal Miles to be something of a proto-ecofeminist. Ecofeminism, a term introduced
in the 1970s, is a radical critique of modern industrial society which holds patriachal
domination responsible both for the subjugation of women and the exploitation of the
natural environment. According to Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, the ideology
"involves rejecting the notion that Man's freedom and happiness depend on an
ongoing process of emancipation from nature, on independence from, and dominance over
natural processes by the power of reason and rationality" (6). Thus Miles argues that
it is the technical advances of society which have divorced men and women from close
contact with nature, and hence with the "spirit." Women, not only generally less
educated than men but also more closely attuned to the "life-stuff" by virtue of
childbearing, have suffered less from this dissociation of the human and natural worlds.
Miles further suggests that, like the division of labor, the distinction between the
masculine and feminine grows as a civilization advances technologically. In describing the
chores of a typical country woman, the Wren lists those that could belong to men or women:
a lot of things country women know which those kept in stupid ease never learn. If she has
dressed the new-born and laid out the dead; if she can build fires and kill rattlesnakes
and help to cut up the hogs on slaughtering day; if she bakes bread and sets hens and
harnesses the team on occasion; if she has ranged the woods in search of a cow that has
hidden her new calf, fought her way through a winter storm to help a sister through a
bitter trial; if she knows how to evolve a child's petticoat from a worn shirt or a little
coat from a big one, how to make the rude mechanism of fire and water and a few utensils
serve the needs of her dear ones, and perhaps also a deal of rough-and-ready surgery--if
she knows all this she has the truest culture, the real refinement of sentiment and
ability, infinitely above that of education. (5/21/14:7)
Presumably, "those kept in stupid ease" include not only bourgeois antisuffragists but also their pro-suffrage counterparts whose desire for equality with men will only further alienate them from the Good Gray Mother. The Wren's numerous examples hammer home the fact that country women's work is the result, not of domestic oppression, but the sheer necessities of life. It is telling that the list of chores concludes with surgery, a field traditionally denied to bourgeois women. Miles does not oppose women becoming professional surgeons; rather, she wants the reader to acknowledge that country women have "broken into" the field long before--without their efforts having been authorized by male-dominated institutions in a male-dominated society.
Like The Spirit of
the Mountains, the Fountain Square Conversations are haunted by a
nostalgia for a simpler time in which, paradoxically, male and female were not as distinct
as they are under modern capitalist civilization; yet at the same time, in the
distinctions which did exist, women were allowed somehow to be more fully women. By not
striving to define themselves according to a false male standard, they were free to create
their own. The Fireman responds sympathetically to the Wren's advocacy of the country
women and offers his own condemnation of modern civilization whose operative concepts are
money, hierarchy and power as opposed to common survival:
"Some women have the priceless gift of being happy just because it is raining, or snowing or shining, or just because it is a May morning or a November evening or a clear and starry winter night. Such a one has no need to look away across the mountain intervale to the vast dim electric glow which hangs above the city like a false dawn, and sigh for luxury and elegance. To her the Good Gray Mother has whispered the great secret--that life is life, and the great world is just her own world." (5/21/14:7)