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Mechanization of Interpersonal Communication

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    Recent technological progress has resulted in more mobile work, which has caused the deterioration and mechanization of interpersonal relationships and the blending of the home and business spheres. Bronson Howard’s play, The Henrietta, exemplifies this deterioration of the home sphere and serves as a warning to future businessmen. Although technology made the deterioration of the home sphere possible, it was not inevitable and could be avoided with the proper mindset. Rapid technological advancement allowed for the blending of the home sphere and business sphere because it enabled Vanalstyne Jr. to work from home, which led to the deterioration of his interpersonal relationships and allowed him place more importance on wealth and power, but Vanalstyne and Bertie shows that the blending of the two spheres is avoidable by placing more importance on interpersonal relationships rather than personal wealth and power.

    The business sphere and the home sphere first deteriorated on a physical level with the presence of the stock ticker in the Vanalstyne’s house, which allowed their home to gradually morph into their office. Vanalstyne Jr. became enveloped by business because of the available technology which allowed him to work from home. This led to a lack of sleep, constant stress and eventual death. Dr. Wainwright states, “I am in the very headquarters of my great enemy, Death. You start at his name. Let me feel your pulse. You have another Wall Street operation on hand. Your pulse hasn’t been twice alike, two days in succession, for weeks. You New York business men have invited Death into your own houses. The telephone and the stock indicator have enabled His Stable Majesty to move up town with the rest of the fashionable world; he used to content himself with wearing out your souls and bodies at your offices” (15-16) . According to Dr. Wainwright, Vanalstyne Jr. is essentially killing himself because he is incapable of separating his home life from his business life. Dr. Wainwright points out that the life of a trader is stressful, but to continue to work in the safety of one’s home created a constantly high and unnecessary stress level. Vanalstyne Jr.’s tireless hours working with the stock ticker led to the ticker essentially becoming a part of Vanalstyne Jr. Howard writes “Vanalstyne Jr. staggers back into Doctor’s arms and sinks into chair, his head drops on his breast lifeless; the Doctor places his hand over his patient’s heart, the indicator ticks a few times, and is silent” (65). Vanalstyne’s Jr.’s heart became mechanized and beats at the same rhythm as the stock ticker. The blending of the home and business spheres completely enveloped Vanalstyne Jr.’s life and, even through death, he could not break free from the business sphere. The physical presence of the stock ticker led to Vanalstyne Jr.’s inability to keep the business sphere and the home sphere separate, which slowly mechanized his actions and ultimately led to his death.

    Beyond the physical level, the home sphere also morphed into the business sphere on an emotional level due to the “business is business” attitude, which is the attitude that any action is acceptable as long as it is personally beneficial and enhances one’s financial wellbeing, personal reputation or general happiness. Vanalstyne Jr. nearly compromises his relationship with Rose due to his “business is business” attitude. While Rose is loyal and caring, Vanalstyne Jr. had an affair with Gertrude Reynolds which leads to a bastard child. Vanalstyne Jr. shows limited remorse for his decisions and essentially forces Bertie to lie and compromise his relationship with Agnes in order to save his relationship with Rose. When Rose confronts Vanalstyne Jr. about the letters from Gertrude Reynolds, he says, “Rose, I need hardly say that I am sorry this exposure has come at last. I would have concealed it from you entirely, but I may as well speak frankly to you now. I have known of this affair from the first. You are quite right. It will be better for Agnes’ future for her to marry Watson Flint, instead of my brother Bertie” (32). Since Vanalstyne Jr.’s reputation was on the line, he decided to compromise his relationship with his brother and pin the affair on Bertie. Despite the relationship saving lie by Bertie, Vanalstyne Jr. remains unappreciative because he does not value interpersonal relationships. Vanalstyne Jr. selfishly wanted wealth and fame and was willing to compromise his health, relationships and ultimately his life to achieve his goals.

    Vanalstyne shows that the business and home spheres can remain separate as long as the “business is business” is avoided and interpersonal relationships remain relevant. Vanalstyne’s passion for business does not stem from the desire to acquire wealth and power, but from his enjoyment of playing the game and being able to manipulate the markets. While speaking with his son about the goings of the business, Vanalstyne states “Bill Jarvis lost his entire fortune in our twist on the Street last Friday. Bill Jarvis is my dearest old schoolmate. Jarvis and I were brought up together. We let him in for two hundred thousand dollars. I was always getting jokes on Bill. We must give the old boy a chance to start again. Write to him that my bank account is at his service, Nick. Ah! He’ll make another fortune in a year, and I’ll get that, too!” (11). Vanalstyne’s shows aspects of the “business is business” attitude in this scene because Bill Jarvis was one of his good friends, yet he finds it comical that Jarvis loses all his money due to his manipulation the market. Despite this attitude, Vanalstyne offers Jarvis a chance to get back in the game by providing him the capital. Although he made Jarvis lose all his money, Vanalstyne still valued the relationship more than his personal wealth and was willing to give Jarvis the chance to make his money back. This interaction shows that Vanalstyne is significantly different than his son because he values his interpersonal relationships more than wealth and power, while Vanalstyne Jr. would compromise any relationship to further his self-worth.

    Although Vanalstyne’s treatment of Cornelia is business-like and flirts with the boundaries of the “business is business” attitude, he has underlying feelings and passion for her, which places their relationship in higher regards than his personal wealth and power. Vanalstyne’s actions implied that Cornelia was a tradable asset that could be acquired in a business transaction. When Cornelia’s husband died, Vanalstyne’s immediate thought was to offer Cornelia the Louisville and West Tennessee preferred shares and sweep her off her feet with money. When speaking with his son about the preferred shares, Vanalstyne stated, “I control that railroad absolutely, and I’m going to freeze out the parson. This is a little flyer on my own account. Let her have the stock. I am buying an option. The Reverend Dr. Murray Hilton thinks he’s got the inside track by having the widow’s soul in charge; but if I can get control of her fortune his chances of securing her person are not flattering. It may cost me a million dollars; but I’ll get that widow” (12). Vanalstyne’s treatment of Cornelia was business-like since he believed that the way to her heart was through her wallet instead of through her soul. Despite their business-like interactions, he still had underlying love and passion for her. Vanalstyne never intended to emotionally hurt Cornelia, but he became so enveloped in playing the markets as his own son tried to bring him down, that he temporarily forgot about Cornelia. After losing all of Cornelia’s money, he offered her bonds that would cover all of her loses. This gesture distinguishes Vanalstyne from his son because he was willing to compromise his wealth in order to save his relationship with Cornelia. Vanalstyne Jr. was placed in a similar position when Rose found out about Gertrude Reynolds, but he pinned the blame on Bertie in order to keep his personal reputation intact.

    Furthermore, Vanalstyne Jr.’s treatment of his relationship with his father shows that there is no relationship that means more to Vanalstyne Jr. than wealth and fame, and ultimately shows that the home sphere has completely yielded to the business sphere in his personal world. His father entrusted him with the future of the business, but Vanalstyne Jr. felt the need to take control of his father’s wealth and fame by going against him on his Henrietta Mining position. Due to Vanalstyne Jr.’s “business is business” mindset, he was simply doing what best served his business interests. This mindset is ultimately what differentiates Vanalstyne Jr. from his father. While Vanastyne flirts with the “business is business” attitude, his underlying respect for personal relations allows him to keep the business and home spheres separated. The business sphere is more of a game to Vanastyne, and although he is willing to take advantage of others to win the game, he is also willing to help them recover because he values his relationships with others.

    Contrarily, Vanalstyne Jr. is entirely enveloped by the “business is business” attitude and he could not care less about his interpersonal relationships. He was willing to compromise his relationship with anyone in order to become more successful. When it is revealed that Vanalstyne Jr. is the one who was going against his father in the Henrietta Mine deal, Vanalstyne Jr. said to his father, “I have done what seemed best for my own business interests. You have lost your fortune to-day, but I have gained one. I will settle upon you an allowance of ten thousand dollars a year” (61). Despite the fact that he ultimately offered his father an allowance, Vanalstyne Jr.’s treatment of his father shows that their relationship was not nearly as important as becoming the “Master of Wall Street”. While the business and home spheres stayed relatively separate, albeit slightly interconnected, for Vanalstyne, the business sphere completely enveloped the home sphere for Vanalstyne Jr.

    Beyond Vanalstyne’s ability to keep the business and home spheres separate, Bertie’s character provides further evidence that the two spheres do not necessary have to blend. Bertie initially separated the home sphere and the business sphere by being entirely secluded from the business sphere. As time went on and his relationship with Agnes developed, he attempted to commit to the business world, but was rejected by his father. By the end of the play, Bertie was committed to the business world, yet he was able to maintain his relationship with Agnes and separate the business sphere from the home sphere. Furthermore, Bertie’s commitment to the home sphere is evident when Vanalstyne Jr. pins the blame for his mistress on Bertie. Bertie goes on to take the fall for his brother, which temporarily compromised his relationship with Agnes. When Bertie was confronted about the letters his response was to “Turn again sharply to Vanalstyne Jr., who points to Rose appealingly and shakes his head. Rose crosses to Vanalstyne Jr. Bertie turns again to audience, then slowly crosses to mantel and drops letters quietly into fire. Music swells to f.e. Bertie leans on mantel, head on hands” (45-46). Bertie made the decision to burn the letters because he was looking at the situation from within the home sphere instead of from the business sphere. Instead of having a “business is business” attitude, Bertie valued his relationships with his brother more than he valued personal reputation. Bertie’s ability to keep the two spheres separate provides further evidence that it is not inevitable that technological advances would lead to the blending of the two spheres.

    Although Vanalstyne and Bertie show that the blending of the home and business spheres is avoidable, technological advances made it possible for the characters to work at home, which made it more difficult to separate the two spheres. Without a stock ticker in their house, the Vanalystne’s would not have had the opportunity to do their work from home. Furthermore, the advancement of telephones made it easier to work from home, and the increased reliance on technology pushed the mechanization of interpersonal relationships. The characters in the play worked like cogs in a machine and whenever one deviated from their role, they were immediately brought back to reality. When Musgrave was inquiring about the Henrietta mine with Watson Flint, Flint said “Musgrave, I have never known you before to take the slightest personal interest in any operation your employer was engaged in. I trust you haven’t taken to thinking; a private secretary who thinks is a dangerous man… Never allow yourself to hope, Musgrave. That is another excellent rule for men in your position. It is so difficult to hope without thinking” (27). This conversation shows that each character has a role in the functioning of the business and any deviation from these roles could negatively impact the business much like gears in a machine. Despite the fact that Musgrave was asking harmless questions, it was not within his job to inquire about the business. He was there to simply assist the Vanalstyne’s with their everyday needs, but was not permitted to think. This is ironic because at the end of the play it is Musgrave’s thinking that ultimately breaks Vanalstyne Jr.’s plot and saves the machine from imploding. Ultimately, the mechanization of interpersonal relationship made them less meaningful and led to the blending of the business and home spheres.

    This play served as forward looking warning to businessmen to be more aware of the blending of the home and business worlds due to rapidly advancing technology. Howard’s warning is that the blending of these two spheres could have disastrous results as interpersonal relationships deteriorate and life becomes mechanical and business-like. This warning is becoming increasingly more realistic as time progresses. Much like Vanalstyne Jr., businessmen are living to work as opposed to working to live. The recent death of the Bank of America summer analyst shows the length extent of deterioration between the work life and the home life (Cox: 2013). With cloud computing on the rise, working from home is becoming more common, and the home sphere is rapidly deteriorating into the business sphere. Furthermore, interpersonal relationships are becoming increasingly mechanical with advances in cell phone technology as well as social media technology.

    While technological advances led to the blending of the home and business spheres for Vanalstyne Jr., Vanalstyne and Bertie were able to avoid the blending of the two spheres by placing more importance on personal relationships than wealth and power. The underlying warnings that Bronson Howard portrays throughout the play have become more realistic as time progresses. Technological progress has led to the mechanization of interpersonal relationships and allowed for work to infiltrate the homes of businessmen. According to the themes of Howard’s play, interpersonal relationships must remain more important to society than wealth and fame in order for the two spheres to remain separate. The potential dangers of the blending are portrayed through Vanalstyne Jr.’s character, while Vanalstyne and Bertie provide a trace amount of hope that the home sphere can remain a separate entity.

    Works Cited

    1. Cox, Jeff. ‘BofA Intern Dies After Reportedly Working 3 Straight Days.’ CNBC. N.p., 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
    2. Howard, Bronson. The Henrietta. Cambridge: ProQuest Information

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