Crowded house together alone

Old English crudan "to press, crush." Cognate with Middle Dutch cruden "to press, push," Middle High German kroten "to press, oppress," Norwegian kryda "to crowd." Related: Crowded ; crowding .

Privacy is longed for in almost all of her stories, but it is also almost always suspect. Paley didn’t believe that people could separate themselves from the concerns of those around them, nor did she think they ought to. This was one reason she believed that prisons should be located in cities, as she argued in the essay “Six Days,” about the time she spent in New York’s Women’s House of Detention after she was arrested for protesting against the Vietnam War. Prisons should be “in the neighborhood,” rather than in “distant suburbs,” far from family and conveniently out of public sight. Engaging with “the unlucky and the self-hurters” should be a part of everyone’s daily experience. Paley’s fiction, like her political essays, charge us with moving closer to those we might rather keep at a distance. 28 And yet a deep, even hopeless sense of loneliness could creep into her fiction. In “Mother,” the narrator pictures her mother standing in various doorways over the years, observing, worrying, chastising. In the story’s last scene, her mother stands in the doorway once again, this time to the living room, while her father sits on the couch listening to Bach. The scene recalls an earlier moment, years ago, when the couple sat in the living room listening to Mozart together and “looked at one another amazed” at the music and at their new lives in America. But that joy has since dissipated. “Talk to me a little,” pleads the mother from the doorway. “We don’t talk so much anymore.” Her husband, a doctor, replies that he’s tired. “I saw maybe thirty people today. All sick, all talk talk talk talk. Listen to the music.” She comes and sits, but they don’t talk. Shortly thereafter, the mother dies, and the story ends. It is a rare moment of silence and unwanted solitude in Paley’s noisy world. 29 For Paley, there was nothing more tragic than such solitude—nothing sadder than people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, engage with those around them. She made it her project, in her activism and her art, to show how life could and should be lived collectively. Her fiction was more than just empathetic: It not only sought to understand the world from the point of view of others, but also insisted on how integral this sense of connection was to the work of radical politics. Collectivity might not always be pleasant—there might be one too many people in an apartment—but it was, to Paley’s mind, an irrefutable fact of life. 30 Maggie Doherty Maggie Doherty is a lecturer at Harvard. Her writing has appeared in the New Republic , Dissent , and n+1 . The Equivalents , her first book, will be published by Knopf.

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