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The Matter of Communism
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The Matter of Communism





The Pursuit of Happiness

Eric Smythe has just been summoned into his manager’s office.

Among the NBC writers, Ross has always been known as Himmler – because he’s the guy who exterminates anyone the company wants out of the way. His secretary visibly paled when she saw me […]. But instead of escorting me into his office, she brought me to an adjoining conference room. There were five guys sitting around a table. When I came in, all of them stared up at me, as if I was some death-row inmate who’s been hauled in front of the appeals board for one final stab at clemency. […]

“ ‘All this for me?’ I said. But nobody laughed. Instead, Ross stood up. He’s a real bloodless guy, Ross. The nondescript accountant type with thick glasses and greasy brown hair. No doubt he was bullied like hell at school – and has been getting his revenge ever since, as he so clearly delights in the small amount of power that his job gives him. Especially at a moment like this – when he was about to conduct his very own Un-American Activities investigation on the forty-third floor of Rockefeller Center.

“So up he stood and tonelessly introduced everyone at the table. There was Bert Schmidt, the network’s head of Variety and Comedy. There were two guys – Golden and Frankel – from Legal Affairs. And there was this gentleman named Agent Brad Sweet from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. […] A real big, square-jawed Midwestern type, with a crew cut and a short thickening neck. I’m sure he played linebacker when he was at high school in Nebraska, married the girl he brought to the senior prom, and probably spent his entire four years at Wichita State dreaming of the moment he could go to work for Mr Hoover, and defend Mom and the American flag from dangerous gag-writing subversives like me. Got the picture?” […]

“ ‘Mr Smythe, are you now or have you been a member of the Communist Party?’

“Without even thinking about it, I instantly said, ‘No.’ Agent Sweet tried to control a smirk as he opened my very substantial file, and said, ‘You’re lying, Mr Smythe. If this was a court of law, you could be indicted for contempt.’ […]

“ ‘As I just told you, I quit the Party over a decade ago.’

“The other lawyer, Golden, came in here, trying to sound friendly.

“ ‘What made you leave the Party, Eric?’

“ ‘I’d lost faith in the doctrines they were pushing. I thought they were ideologically wrong about a lot of things. And I also began to believe the rumors that were being spread about Stalin’s repressive policies in Russia.’

“ ‘So,’ said the ever-helpful Counselor Golden, ‘you realized Communism was wrong.’

“He didn’t pose that sentence as a question – rather, as a statement. Bert Schmidt shot me this pleading, don’t be stupid here look. I said, ‘That’s right. I decided Communism was wrong. And evil.’ […]

“ ‘Given your admirable change of heart on the matter of Communism,’ Agent Sweet said, ‘would you call yourself a patriotic American?’

“I was also expecting this dumb question. And I knew I’d have to lie. So I assured Agent Sweet – and everyone else at the table – that I loved my country more than life itself, or some such crap. Sweet seemed pleased with my response.

“ ‘Then you’d be willing to cooperate?’ he asked me.

“ ‘Cooperate? What do you mean by cooperate?’


The Pursuit of Happiness, Douglas Kennedy, 2001.
Copyright © Douglas Kennedy 2001, by kind permission of the author and Random House Limited
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Questions

a) Introduce the document, giving its nature and general topic.


b) How is Ross depicted?


c) Quote the sentence which signals that the narrator may be in trouble.


d) How is agent Sweet portrayed? What does it suggest?


e) Is the narrator a member of the Communist Party? Justify. What do you guess from the narrator’s replies to Agent Sweet’s questions?


f) What does Agent Sweet want from the narrator? What could this mean?


g) How does Douglas Kennedy use his art as a means to denounce witch hunts?

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