In the home we sold, I enjoyed an oversized utility room with space for a large-tub washer and a dryer with nice cabinets above. In this room, I also installed a feeding station for the cats, a tall cabinet for cleaning products, and clothes racks on which to hang damp clothes as they finished drying. I could move about easily and see anything I needed.
In the condo with spectacular views where I live now, my utility room is a narrow closet with just enough room for a small-tub washer and dryer. When the folding doors that hide these machines are open to allow access, the one on the right prevents the dryer door from opening fully so I’ve had to buy a tool with a long handle to reach inside the dryer, squeeze the plastic handle, grip some clothes, and haul them hither. Inevitably, the dryer sheet escapes, and I must chase it down before stuffing it back into the fray, forcing it to do its work until the buzzer sounds.
As you can imagine, my reaction begins at mildly annoyed to Moby-Dick sized foul language. Yesterday, however, it occurred to me that the dryer sheet is simply the rebel among us. The one who cannot stay no matter how much he wants to do what others expect, demand, or need. He simply must march to that drumbeat few of us hear.
Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, includes such a rebel. He’s Tom Wingfield, the only son of Amanda Wingfield and a father who fled years ago. Brother to Laura, an unmarried adult with few skills, Tom is sole support for two women. His own life has been put on hold, his savings taken to pay for a typing course so that Laura may support herself one day. Tom has the spirit of a poet, but he’s tied to a paycheck from a shoe warehouse.
If Tom upholds his duty as breadwinner, he will never build a life of his own, he will never see the world, and he will never write a word. The true Tom Wingfield will wither and die. So he leaves Amanda and Laura to endure however they may. He cannot live unless he leaves.
Randal Patrick McMurphy, protagonist of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is another little dryer sheet destined to flee its oppressive chamber. He’s a slacker, ill-equipped for the working world, but his charity toward others redeems him. He sees Nurse Ratchet’s tyranny for what it is: abuse, and he asks nicely for modest changes that will enrich the lives of those confined to her ward. He learns that reasonable requests only feed her hunger for absolute control so he accelerates into defiance and fury.
McMurphy could have chosen a different path and remained free and hearty. Most of us would have yielded to the oppressive culture and dodged the irreversible consequences of our own convictions. McMurphy simply could not do that. He had to fight. Fighting was in his DNA, it seems, and he rises to the stature of hero even as he’s broken, labeled a fool, and lost forever to his own or anyone else’s cause.
Tris and Katniss are other little dryer sheets. Neither can accept the place where fate places them. Both struggle to escape and reluctantly accept the burden of changing the quality of life for others. Both hope to forgive themselves for what their natures compel them to do because for them and all of us, the line between duty and necessity is almost invisible.
Read or re-read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Tom Wingfield and Randal Patrick McMurphy are mirror images of people who cannot assume the roles and responsibilities of their society. Some of these people lead us to become better. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Sister Prejean, Sister Campbell, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and so many more have moved us to open our hearts and minds to freedom, equality, and justice. Others, including conscientious objectors, who cannot abide society’s strictures, have constructed their own prisons. Write a sympathetic portrait of a rebel, destined to break the boundaries of his existence.