Chapter 1: Tell Me What You See
Antoine Moorehead has lived in Pleasantville for his entire life. Skip remembers being more shocked to learn this than he'd been about pretty much any thing else, ever. It had been strange, his first day working at McGinty's Hardware, meeting someone... new. Someone he'd never seen in his life. Someone black.
It's not like he's Uncle Earl, who lives in a cabin a ways out of town and only comes to Pleasantville once a month for supplies. Skip's lived here every day of his life. He spent his spring exploring the local creek beds, his summer camping in the woods nearby, his fall trekking to Old Man Carver's orchard, and his winter caroling to what felt like every house in town. He could have sworn that he knew every single one of Pleasantville's streets, homes, and families. But somewhere out there, somewhere Skip had never even known existed, Antoine had grown up, with a mother, a father, and an unknown number of sisters who all called Pleasantville home just like Skip did.
Some days Skip wonders what else exists in Pleasantville that he's never seen.
But Skip got over his initial trepidation and life was pretty much the same as it ever was. Skip worked out front most weekdays, helping customers and making sales, while Antoine worked in the back, processing freight and taking deliveries. In the evenings, after Skip locked up, they turned on the record player and shared the tasks of closing down the store. Skip brought in Doris Day and the Beatles to sort the nail bins to, and Antoine pulled out Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells for sweeping the floor. Once Skip borrowed in his cousin's Rolling Stones and Kinks records to bring in, but Mr. McGinty noticed them, and was quite clear in dictating what was and was not allowed in his store.
Once, when Mary Sue was in town for Christmas break, Skip tried to tell her about how meeting Antoine had thrown him, but she didn't seem to understand. Mary Sue just rolled her eyes and said "Yes, people who are different than you exist, even in Pleasantville," and went back to talking about her literature professor. Sometimes Skip doesn't understand how things that are a major adjustment for him don't seem to throw Mary Sue at all. They grew up in the same town, just two blocks away from each other, and yet it seems like Mary Sue's world will always be infinitely larger than Skips'.
Antoine seems to get it more than Mary Sue. He's worried because next year his sisters will be going to Pleasantville High, integrating with the world that Skip grew up in. Skip wants to say that it will be fine - that he knows the people of Pleasantville and there's no place nicer on earth - but he remembers last year, and just how un-pleasant a place his little world could be in the face of something different. So Skip worries about the Moorehead girls too, because even a place as nice as Pleasantville can be cruel, it's just not something that people ever see.
Skip IS NOT an enlightened narrator. He's the product of his community, his time, and a lack of exposure to anything that existed outside of upper-middle class white America. I chose to make Skip largely oblivious of the implicit racism of his upbringing, probably rendering him a better person than the character would have actually been. I could bend the world to Pleasantville to make Skip empathetic, but not to make him politically correct.
On integration and Pleasantville's black population:
I'm assuming that Pleasantville, like most shows from the black & white era did not show a black population, therefore Skip was completely unaware of one existing. I'm also basing this segment largely on experience from my own youth in a small but well off area of central Arkansas. As a child I assumed that there simply wasn't a large black population around where we lived. It was only years later that I realized that there was actually a substantial one that I had simply never seen. I never observed any overt racism, but there was definitely an unspoken policy of segregation that was observed and respected by both sides. I didn't know it, but there were deep issues beneath the surface of that polite society, something I learned by observing the hatred that both groups expressed towards the family of an interracial friend.
Integration was actually mandated by the Supreme Court as a result of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, however actual desegregation took several years to occur. In this story integration doesn't actually occur until after the events of the movie, and Pleasantville becomes reconnected with the world. Antoine's sisters will be that first visible step.
The chapter title is a song by the Beatles.
Chapter 2: Gloria
Betty Jean has followed Mary Sue's lead her entire life. In third grade her name was second on the sign-up list for Girl Scouts, just below Mary Sue's. When Mary Sue's apple crumble took first place at the fourth grade home ec. fair, Betty Jean's apple pie took second. Mary Sue decided to go out with Skip Martin, and Betty Jean told Mark Reynolds that he could take her out too. But when Mary Sue went to college, Betty Jean couldn't follow.
That's not to say that Betty Jean didn't try. She filled out applications for all the same schools and wrote every required essay, but when she put them on the table, to be given to Mr. Jenkins the postman, her father had taken one look at the addresses and said that her brother Harry would be the one going to college, and if Betty Jean really felt the need for more education she could make due with secretarial school. So Mary Sue went to college and studied Shakespeare and Keats, while Betty Jean got a secretarial certificate and a job.
This could have been the end of her story. In the back of her mind, Betty Jean's almost certain that if her mother had done the same thing she would have worked for six months before marrying her own version of Mark Reynolds and quitting to focus on having babies.
Betty Jean is not her mother.
Betty Jean's first secretary job was at her Uncle's newspaper, Pleasantville Times.* She answered phones, took dictation, and proofread newspaper copy until her eyes crossed. Then, one day on her lunch break, she was sitting on the bench at the corner of Broadway and Main when the milk truck overturned attempting to avoid the youngest Reed child, who had chased a ball into the street. Betty Jean waded through a small river of milk to the truck, ascertained that the driver was mostly unscathed, told the hysterical Muriel Reed to sit down, and sent the older Reed boys to fetch the doctor, the fire truck, and Opie Gillis, the town mechanic.
Betty Jean returned to the Pleasantville Times office two hours after the end of her lunch break with ruined shoes and a small novel's worth of quotes covering every bit of the surface area of the brown bag that had contained her lunch. Betty Jean was a secretary for just under six months, but B.J. Simpson has been the Pleasantville Times' best reporter for just over two years.
By necessity BJ spends most her time reporting on small stories of local interest. For the most part Pleasantville is still generally... well, pleasant. There's very little crime, and recently the biggest public scandal was Don Roper's suggestion that rescuing cats might not be the best use of the fire department's time. Still, there are a scattering of accidents, pie contests, and city council initiatives that must be recounted in exhaustive detail to satisfy a very demanding readership.
What BJ really lives for is the back quarter page. Even though it's now generally acknowledged that there is a world outside of Pleasantville, the older generation - and most of their advertisers - still prefer to ignore its existence. All non-Pleasantville news is relegated to the last page of the paper, and three-quarters of that is dedicated to news that will directly affect Pleasantville. The state budget and the Governor's tour fill their allotted inches, but the bottom right quarter of the back page is solely under BJ's supervision.
Each day she pours over the feed from the teletype machine, looking for the most important stories, trying to shoehorn as much information about a world that is rapidly changing into a quarter page of a paper for a town that seems frozen in time. She uses this space to inform her readers about a war that isn't acknowledged by their 'patriotic' town. She puts information about civil rights rallies, and on April 5th of 1968 she puts a black border around the entire section and prints the text of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" with a small epilogue she writes mourning his assassination.
The next day there are three letters to the editor about the death of Mr. Parker's cat Harrison, all containing subtle condemnation of the former Mrs. Parker, as though her desertion of the Parker residence two years before had directly contributed to the cat's death. The day after there are two letters about a proposed statute regulating hedge height, and one maligning Beatrice Heightmore's potato salad. No letters are ever published responding to BJ's quarter page, but a week later she finds a simple "thank you" written in looping writing over a clipping of the segment.
BJ keeps writing, filled with the conviction that there must be other people in Pleasantville who feel the same burning need for news of the outside world. She ignores her parents, who have been making more and more blatant comments about her settling down. BJ hasn't dated since she was Betty Jane. Mark Reynolds looked her up when he was home on break a few years ago, but she had deadlines to meet and she gets the feeling he didn't much care for being told that she had more important things to do. BJ hasn't really missed him.
One day, while walking to the office BJ passes a girl setting up a table in front of McGinty's. She doesn't think much of it until her uncle sends her to check out the commotion going on downtown. It turns out that little Margaret Henderson is waging a one woman crusade against the sale of Dow Chemical products. Her little table has posters with graphic pictures that she must have gone to a bigger city to get a copy of, and there are fliers scattered on the sidewalk, and Margaret herself is waving a sign and yelling at the red faced Mr. McGinty and Police Chief Dan. BJ takes notes and finds herself admiring Margret's passion, if not her wisdom, as Margaret is dragged to the police station after hitting the Chief with her sign.
BJ talks to Mr. McGinty, Skip Martin, Police Chief Dan, and a couple of bystanders, returns to the office to type up her article, and then goes back to the police station where she proceeds to bail out the sweet looking little blond who left the rather large bruise currently darkening the Police Chief's forehead.
Margaret Henderson is two years younger than BJ, so even though they've always known each other, this is probably the first time they've actually talked. Margaret -"Please, it's Maggie"- spent one semester in college upstate before getting expelled for being a troublemaker. Maggie may be stuck in Pleasantville, but she's on fire with a revolutionary spirit, and determined to change the world. They stay up late into the night talking about all the things that have been tearing at her insides and consuming BJ's every waking minute.
BJ's article runs on the third page and gets four letters in response. Two letters criticize the paper for giving space to dangerous dissidents and rabble rousers; one, that is signed Anonymous, commends Ms. Henderson, and one points out a typo in the third paragraph. BJ's uncle writes an editorial saying that the Pleasantville Times is committed to providing thorough coverage of all local events and stood behind its reporters. Between the editorial and her elation over writing something real that wasn't buried on the back page, BJ is floating on cloud nine.
However, when she gets home she has another argument with her father about the direction of her life and what he calls a job and she calls a career. It's the same argument they've been having for the last year, and BJ could recite her part without prompting. But she's had a good day, one where she can see a small way that she made a difference, and so when her father reaches the "as long as you're living under my roof" segment BJ goes off program and says "Well then I won't" and packs her bags.
BJ takes a room with Mrs. Boyle, who's 100 if she's a day, but still makes the best blueberry muffins in town. The next day she's bringing a second load of her stuff to her new home when she finds Maggie on her doorstep. There's a plate of cookies in her hands, and a sparkle in her eye when she says, "So I'm planning on having another protest tomorrow. Think I can make the front page this time?"
* The newspaper was originally going to be called The Pleasant Yodel, but good taste and anti-yodeling sentiment prevailed.
The chapter title from Patti Smith's song Gloria, which she once referred to as an anthem of claiming responsibility for her own life. Listen to it.
Chapter 3: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
It seems cliche, because people always say it, but things were different when Danny was a boy. History was something that happened a long time ago in places far away. As a child, building model planes and flying home made kites on lazy summer days, the one thing he was absolutely certain of was that his world was constant, stable, comfortable.
Nothing that happened in the world ever touched Pleasantville.
Danny's fifteen years old when everything changes.
Pleasantville, which in his memories was always black and white, constant and unchanging, seems to change overnight. Perhaps it was simply a side effect of growing up, but the world was suddenly filled with color, and ordinary everyday things seem brand new.
The first time Danny remembers noticing it he was lying in bed, staring out at the night sky, and listening to the radio. Buck Henry ends and the announcer started talking about the latest rocket that NASA just launched. There's conjecture that some day soon they'd be ready to send a man into space, to land an American on the moon. The idea captures his imagination. Between one blink and the next, the sky outside, that had been painted with flat, dusky shades of black and white, is suddenly the deepest indigo and the stars are beautiful in their shining iridescence.
Danny studies. He reads every textbook he can lay hands on. The words filling the pages open a window to a universe that is beautiful, amazingly complex, and anything but simple.
Danny graduates third in his class. His family's never been that well off. His mother is one of the few married women in town who worked while Danny was growing up. So Danny plans to work for a year or two and go to college. He wants to work for NASA, to look through their instruments and see the universe in its entirety. He convinces his boss, Bill Johnson, to buy a television for the shop. He and most of the young people in town crowd around it one brisk day in the fall of 1967 to watch the launch of Apollo 4. It's the best day that Danny can remember
In January Danny starts filling out college applications. He's saved enough money that he can pay for his first two years of school, Danny is more than ready to start his bachelors in the fall. he can't wait to take Intro to Physics.
In February the outside world reaches into Pleasantville and touches Danny. He picks up the mail and there, buried between the new Sears Roebuck catalog and a letter from his grandmother, is a slip of paper that reorders his world. In plain print, with blanks that were haphazardly filled in with his name and address, is a message from the Office of the President of the United States that begins, "Greetings:".
By August he's finished boot camp and is en-route to Vietnam. Danny tells himself that this is an opportunity. He'll spend a year in Vietnam for his tour of duty, save his pay, and use the money from the GI Bill to fund his education. If he's careful he'll have enough saved to get him through at least his masters degree. That's the plan anyway.
Nothing in his life could have prepared Danny for Vietnam. His fellow soldiers are bitter, and resentful of a discriminatory system. A large percentage of them are minorities who know they've been deliberately given the short end of the stick. All of his fellow infantrymen come from a poor background, those without enough money to buy their way into college or out of service. They talk about anarchy and disrespect authority with world-weary callousness. He learns to drink, tries to forget his treks through the jungle, falls a little bit in love with a village girl named Mai, and feels achingly numb when walking through the Napalmed remains of her village three months later.
When the monsoons start in May he's two-thirds of the way through his tour and Danny doesn't have plans anymore. He can't comprehend the idea of being home and living a normal life. He doesn't want to be in Vietnam, but he's not sure he can bear the idea of living a normal life at home. Danny thinks about running away, finding a cave in Tibet or a plateau in Utah and just waiting to die. Then, one night towards the end of June, Danny has night watch. The rain stops for a brief intermission, and Danny looks up. For a moment the sky is clear and he can see the vastness of space more clearly than he thinks he ever has. Danny sees something so much bigger than himself and his miserable, muddy, violent existence, and remembers what awe is. When the clouds return, and the rain envelops him again, Danny is still looking up, muddy face cleaned and silent tears washed away by the downpour.
He has just over a month left before his ship out date and for once the prospect doesn't fill him with dread.
Two weeks before he's due to go home, on July 20th of 1969, Neil Armstrong takes his historic first step and Danny takes his last. His unit is ambushed while returning from a routine patrol. Danny's shot in the chest and dies, hearing his lieutenant order a retreat, and staring at what he can see of the moon through the forest canopy.
Danny is Danny Strong's character who is simply listed as "Juke Box Boy" in the credits. I couldn't bear to leave him out, even though he's short enough he's almost under the height requirements for Vietnam.
The chapter title is the Pete Seeger song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. Be sure to listen to his other song The Draft Dodger Rag.
Chapter 4: Little Boxes
Whitey Ford grows up just the way his parents wanted. He's a perfectly ordinary kid who gets good grades and plays basketball. He says "golly" and "gee," and only once did his mother ever have to wash his mouth out for saying "darn."
He has never once eaten one of Margaret Henderson's cookies.
Eventually Whitey becomes a fireman. He marries his high school sweetheart, has two kids, and acquires a cat.
If asked, he will earnestly tell you that Pleasantville is the most idyllic place in the entire world. It hasn't changed since he was a boy, and he's confident that it will always be perfect, pure, and innocent of the evils that infect the rest of the world.
Whitey's world will always be black and white and simple.
Chapter title is from the song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds.