I love the book The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. Definitely a five-star book. Like Charlotte’s Web, the book is a “children’s” book fit for adults. The best children’s literature is like that; you can absolutely enjoy it and think deeply about it as an adult reader.
Well, I wouldn’t say that The Trumpet of the Swan is a book about consumerism, but material possessions are an important theme in the book. There’s this great scene when one of the main characters, a young boy named Sam, is talking with a zookeeper. The zookeeper says something along the lines of, “Birds and other animals have it easy. They don’t have to buy things. I mean, you can teach a monkey to ride a motorcycle, but I’ve never known a monkey to go out and buy a motorcycle.”
Sam is sharp-witted and responds something like, “That’s true, but some animals collect stuff. Rats, for example, will find shiny objects and bring them into their dens just to keep them.”
(Aside: I assume E. B. White was making an allusion to Templeton from Charlotte’s Web when he had Sam say this. But a better animal to illustrate the point might have been a bowerbird, since Sam was talking to the head man of birds and because bowerbirds, it seems to me, are the most human-like in their collecting and using of stuff.)
Think about this for a moment. There are human beings on earth. We’re one kind of creature. After that scientists have a hard time estimated the number of other kinds of creatures on the planet. But they think somewhere in the range of 10 million different creatures, give or take several million. 10 million! There are 10 million different creatures on the earth and one of them, humans, have
- Auto dealerships
- Kites and Frisbees
- Bobby pins
- Diamond rings
- Rocking chairs
- Lawn mowers
- Security cameras
- Cruise ships
- Pets and other pets toys
- And just a few other things
- Cats accessories
- garden stuff
I appreciate Sam’s quick wit. But it’s not quite right. No other creature even comes close to human beings when we’re talking about shopping and, I should add, making the products and social structures necessary for shopping to happen.
Take a moment, wherever you are right now, to stop and look around. Think about all the things you see. The computer or mobile phone. The furniture. The window. The linens. The clothes you are wearing (I hope). The jewelry. The sounds of mechanical things. The building you’re in or the buildings you’re near.
This topic we talk about -- consumerism and material possessions. It’s a big one.