Friday, March 16, 2007

Just Another Tommie

As an interesting aside to Heather’s comments in her Lost in Translation post, the name “Tommie” in Some Do Not is also used to refer to an average or generalized male. When Tietjans is explaining why there aren’t any war babies to speak of, he suggests to Mrs. Wannop that any decent “Tommie” wouldn’t leave a girl in such a predicament before going off to die – that even the average soldier would have this amount of decency. In this sense, Tietjans is revealing a set of socially indoctrinated beliefs that even the average person is not selfish enough to offend. The comments thus represent another instance in which Ford is developing Tietjans sense of morality.

While the word spelt “T-O-M-M-I-E” does not appear in the OED, the same word with a different spelling does. The term “Tommy” is used to refer to a simple-minded or unintelligent person. Therefore, when reading into Ford’s usage of the term “Tommie”, it can be inferred that Ford is making a statement about Tietjan’s belief in his own superiority. By suggesting that even the average Tommie wouldn’t think of getting his mistress pregnant before going back to war, he is implying that he is either better or more circumspect than the average person. Interestingly, however, Tietjans finds himself in a situation where his principles are called into question.

The use of this term is later used to complicate Tietjans sense of propriety. When Tietjans is contemplating an affair with Valentine, Ford writes, “In ten years he had learnt that a Tommie who’s a decent fellow ….”(281) Tietjans is about to leave for war and therefore, having sex with Valentine would have the potential to leave her pregnant with no man to support her – the very situation that he feels any decent man would avoid. While it would seem hypocritical for Tietjans to even contemplate something he himself condemns in others, it is suggestive of the larger contradictions that exist for a man with Tietjan’s set of values. For the beliefs that he has come to cultivate stand in stark contrast to the fulfillment of his most basic desires. To deny his desire for Valentine would be to deny himself the intimacy that is absent in his life, but to give it ascent would be to induce guilt and to expose Valentine to an undue risk. Thus Ford may be suggesting that Tietjans is an archetype of moral beliefs. While his principles are noble, they are incompatible with the world that he lives in. In consequence he is placed in a situation of perpetual inner turmoil.

Although Tietjan’s does not in fact become an indecent Tommie – he and Valentine do not sleep together before he leaves – it is interesting to note which side wins out. Tietjans succumbs to his desire for Valentine and he asks her to become his mistress. Even though the consummation of this relationship is prevented by her drunken brother, the fact that he makes this resolution is significant. He chooses needs over propriety. Therefore, while people like Tietjans can construct rules and principles to compass their lives, they are still subject to the most elementary human needs.

- Taylor Buis

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