Dramatization of Real Life Events: Watergate A Novel

The Watergate scandal is typically not what I think of when I think of juicy historical instances. It is surely dramatic in its nature, but has always paled in comparison to historical love affairs, sex scandals, and various other controversial acts. It is no doubt important in America history, but is often kind of muddled in with lesser events especially in the public’s eyes. When Presidential scandals are brought up the first two most people likely think of is JFK’s numerous affairs (including Russian spies and Marilyn Monroe) and Bill Clinton’s famous rendezvous with Monica Lewinsky. Watergate just seems to be not as exciting to the average person. Obviously, it’s not an obscure event, most people know it occurred, but overall it just isn’t talked about as often or with the same passion that smaller scale political messes are talked about. This is why I believe it be a genius move on Thomas Mallon’s part to choose it as a subject for a historical novel. It’s a story that people are vaguely familiar with but on average do not know many details about, and the specifics they do know tend to be what came out at the end (Nixon’s involvement, Deepthroat being Mark Felt, etc.) There is the perfect opportunity to make it into a dramatic and scandalous story of political paranoia and confusion.

I loved the novel as someone who was not alive for the actually unfolding of the events. I knew the outcome of the Watergate scandal before I even knew anything about the original Watergate break-in, and have explored the subject in a backwards manner. The novel does a fantastic job of revealing the story to both people who cannot recall the events happening in real time and those who can. It appeared to me almost at times like a mystery novel, and I enjoyed it thoroughly despite it being spoiled for me (although one can’t exactly spoil a story based off of real life events)

The novel puts Watergate in a new light, making it significantly more exciting and dramatic than the event is usually represented as being to those who did not live through it. I think it being slightly fictitious with added characters and events helps advance the story and literary elements of the novel, and overall presents the Watergate to those who don’t know in the way it was presented to those who kept up with the story when it was originally unfolding.

Utilizing Myth-history to Present All Sides

The Watergate scandal has had such a large impact on American society that people alive at the time still remember it vividly and recall the hostile environment it allowed to develop. Democrats and Republicans were at each other’s throats vying for political power and support of the people. Thomas Mallon’s version of the events surrounding Watergate in Watergate: A Novel accurately exemplifies the complicated nature of myth-history. While some parts of the story are true, some characters and plot line events are fictional.

I found Mallon’s decision to blend fiction with non-fiction to tell a story very interesting as it creates a third side of the story. As readers, we are exposed to the opinions of Democrats, Republicans, and factual events that could have been altered or tampered with for either side’s advantage. Myth-history is complicated as it can be difficult to decipher true facts from false statements but I think Mallon did an excellent job in providing the stories presented from both sides.

Watergate and Mythistory

The Watergate Scandal was one of the most major political scandals that occurred in US history.  The evidence that came out during the trial shows that Nixon had his men perform various wire taps on his rivals, beginning the process of impeachment.  While impeachment never happened, Nixon did end up resigning from office.  The Watergate Scandal brings about many “he said, she said” accounts when evidence was presented.  This is something that Thomas Mallon does well in his book.

Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon is a story that perfectly exemplifies the idea of mythistory that we discuss in class.  Mallon brings us along for the story of the Watergate scandal, giving us the details and much more.  Instead of just giving the straight facts of the entire scandal, Mallon tells a story giving us intimate details on the background of each character in the story.  Many of these details may not be completely true or even real at all, but they are put into the story so that the reader is hooked in and enjoys the story.  While the author tells the story, he also describes the blatant facts that actually occurred so that the reader learns the important things in history.  In this story, Mallon describes the Nixon presidency in a comical way, making the story far more intimate than historians usually are able to make it.  Telling the story through seven different characters perspectives, the readers get a wide range of details.

Dark Politics

The Watergate scandal in the early 1970’s was one of the worst political scandals in American history; not just because of the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks and phone tapping, but also because of their extensive and humiliating attempts to cover it up. Nixon’s refusal to present evidence to the federal investigators also violated the Constitution of the United States and led to an impeachment process against the president. The investigation uncovered a number of abuses of power committed by President Nixon and members of his administration including some of his top officials. Although Nixon resigned before he could be impeached, his mistakes and continuous efforts to cover them up created a great distrust in government among the American public.

The media also played an essential role in the uncovering of this scandal. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the first people to discover that the break-ins at the DNC were connected to the White House. They were receiving information from an anonymous source who was later revealed to be Mark Felt, the director of the FBI at the time. This information and their ability to distribute it to the American public brought a great deal of attention to the break-ins that were previously brushed under the rug. This media attention is what sparked the federal investigation into the break-ins.

The book Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon gives an accurate representation of the scandal and Nixon’s many attempts to cover it up. In this novel, Mallon adds some fictional characters and storylines to the reality of the scandal. He does this in order scandal to show that the president and high-up officials are only human. He wanted to show that they were only men and that they too could make mistakes, but at a much higher cost than most Americans. Mallon’s presentation of the Watergate scandal shows how vulnerable our government can be with the wrong people in power. He shows that even these highly intelligent government officials can get caught up in preserving their own personal well-being instead of trying to do what’s best for their country.

A Novel View of Watergate

Before I read Mallon’s book, I was thinking why Nixon’s campaign people would break-in to the office. For Mallon, I felt like even Nixon himself was so clueless in this whole event, “He was unsure, even now, what Watergate really was. He remained as baffled as he’d been when talking to Haldeman on June 23, 1972. He would forever be able to hear himself on the tape: confused; groping; taking the first approach that came to mind, dooming himself. ” After reading through this part of the novel, I actually doubted that whether it was true that everyone was clueless in the story, or Mallon was just afraid of saying the truth out。 If Nixon was truly clueless as described in the book, there would be no need to command John Dean to cover up this whole thing. Speaking of John Dean, I was surprised that he confessed so easily and quickly. As a member of the break-in group, I thought John Dean should be one of the guys that Nixon trusted the most, and I was not ready for his confession at all.

Only a few characters were fictional in this book, and Garahan and Lander did most of the story-telling through the event. However, even from their words I did not see a strong tone in this, and Watergate seems like not such a serious scandal–most people were clueless, and there was no harsh criticisms even from the fictional figures. I think Mallon’s book did a great job in describing the whole Watergate incident, but it did not solve some of my questions such as John Dean”s quick “”betrayal”.

We Have Met the Enemy and They Is Us

“Watergate” has become a pejorative; political scandals which followed Watergate, regardless of their severity, are commonly suffixed with “-gate” to demonstrate their perversity.  We’ve had “travel-gate” “billy-gate” “bridge-gate” “Contra-gate” and, of course, “Russia-gate”; and these are just a selection, the list is long.  But Watergate is the standard by which all subsequent “-gates” are measured.  It represented the epitome of political evil and political efforts to undermine the American democratic system.  Richard Nixon and his supporters (and “plumbers”) threatened not only the Constitution and Rule of Law, but the political foundations of the nation.  Resignation from the Presidency was small price to him to pay for forcing the nation to endure our “long national nightmare.”

Thomas Mallon’s Watergate: A Novel reveals the full collection of scoundrels and others (and some imagined extras) who were involved or connected to the scandal.  However, what was most revealing to me was the utter normality (dare I say, banality) of most of their lives.   Yes, there was a president, several cabinet members, judges, congressmen, advisors, protectors, wives, and lovers; however, they were each in their own way leading “lives of quiet desperation.”  They were not planning the destruction of the United States, (although yes, they did commit crimes) but their actions were primarily chosen as the lesser of two evils – what can I do to get through today; tomorrow will be better.   I say this is not to excuse or condone.  However, Mallon’s telling, I think, reminds us that as many statesmen/women have noted in the past, our Republic is less likely to be destroyed from those outside our borders; we will destroy it ourselves.

The Native Son and Predestination

Predestination is an odd topic for Wright in his 1940 novel The Native Son. Predestination is a concept typically associated with religion, it’s God (or whoever is in charge) plan that can not be changed. In this novel it does not take it’s usually form however, instead the plan is forced seen to be forced upon black folks in America by society (mostly white people.) Wright’s predestination is determined by a culture that allows racism to thrive and has nothing to do with religion. It also is avoidable, unlike normal beliefs of predestination, those in charge (whites) have the power to prevent men like Bigger from committing the crimes and leading the life he did.

This predestination is practically the foundation of Bigger’s legal defense. Bigger’s defense attorney, Boris, is the most sympathetic of the white characters to Bigger and black people in general. He argues in court not that Bigger is innocent of murder, but rather that his actions and overall being is a result of circumstances he had been forced to deal with ever since he was born black. How can he be guilty if he and his deeds were the natural product of the situation he was born into? If the common thoughts regarding black men and especially their relationship to white women were different than perhaps Mary would still be alive. But due to society’s views of black people and Bigger’s knowledge and experience with these views she ended up dying. Her death was a result of a natural reaction Bigger was conditioned to have from years of discrimination.

Wright’s version of predestination isn’t exactly predestination, but is in fact a comment on free will and how we control it. He kind of implies that nothing is fully in or out of our own hands, but instead believes that free will is yet a nothing privilege white people have over racial minorities. A white man would have been listened to and had much better options than Bigger in that situation and that is the real tragedy.

Racism and Oppression in the 1930’s

Native Son was a novel written in 1940 by Richard Wright about a young African American man, Bigger Thomas, who was living with his family in extreme poverty in the South Side of Chicago during the 1930’s. Bigger commits two horrible crimes in this story and is eventually caught by the police and put on trial. Jan, the communist boyfriend of Mary Dalton, whom Bigger murdered, visits Bigger in jail and suggests that he use the help of his lawyer, Boris Max. Max helps Bigger realize and understand his place in the world and his relationship with his family. Bigger realizes that he has lived his life through fear and anger without meaning. He starts to understand that he has the ability to live a meaningful life and he reevaluates his outlook on white people because of how accepting Jan and Boris Max are.

Boris Max defends Bigger by making the case that it was Bigger’s destiny to be a failed human because of the racist oppression that he has experienced since birth. He argues that Bigger along with any other African Americans are simply products of the society that molded them and consistently told them who and what they were going to be since the day they were born. The economic and social oppression against blacks at the time gave men like Bigger no choice but to provide for himself and his family through crime. The only real jobs that they could get were serving the wealthy whites which only perpetuated the cycle of oppression. Boris says that they cannot sentence Bigger to death if they do not even consider him a human being in the first place. However, Bigger is still found guilty and sentenced to death.

Richard Wright was trying to show the effects that racism and social and economic oppression had on black communities in the 1930’s in America. He wanted to show how white racism forced African Americans into a distressed and dangerous mindset. This is what drives Bigger to accidentally kill Mary Dalton; he did not want to get caught in her bedroom so he put a pillow over her face to keep her quiet and accidentally suffocated her. Wright also shows how the media played a role in this cycle of racism and black oppression. When Bigger goes to the movies, the white people are portrayed as sophisticated and wealthy while the blacks are depicted as brutish savages. These racist reinforcements in the media made African Americans more likely to act in violence and animosity because that is how they were expected to act according to social standards.

Racism’s Effect on the Oppressed

Native Son (1940) is a novel written by the American author Richard Wright. The story revolves around 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, an African American youth living in extreme poverty in the “South Side” of Chicago in the 1930s. Wright portrays a systemic inevitability behind Bigger’s crimes, despite Bigger never apologizing for them. Bigger’s lawyer, Boris Max, makes the case that there is no escape from this destiny. This is because Bigger, or any other black American for that matter, is a necessary product of the society that formed them and told them since birth who exactly they were supposed to be.

Wright’s exploration of Bigger’s psychological corruption gives us a new perspective on the oppressive effect racism had on the black population in America in the 1930s. Bigger’s psychological damage originates from the constant barrage of racist propaganda and racial oppression he faces while growing up. The movies he sees depict whites as wealthy and sophisticated , while the blacks are depicted as jungle savages. Bigger and his family live in cramped and squalid conditions. They endure socially enforced poverty and have little to no educational opportunities. Bigger’s attitude toward whites in response to this is a volatile combination of anger and fear. He believes “whiteness” is an overpowering and hostile force that will forever be set against him. Just as whites fail to conceive of Bigger as an individual, he fails to distinguish between whites as individuals. To him, they are all the same, frightening and untrustworthy. Because of his immense hatred and fear, Bigger’s accidental killing of Mary Dalton does not leave him with guilt. Instead, he feels an odd jubilation because, for the first time, he has established his own individuality against the white forces that have conspired to destroy it.

Bigger’s Life of Fear

The novel Native Son, written by Richard Wright, takes the reader into the life of a twenty year old black man, Bigger Thomas, living in 1930’s Chicago.  Right from the beginning, we see the terrible conditions in which Bigger is forced to live in, where living in a cramped apartment and killing rats seems to be a normal thing that is faced every day.  A main aspect of the story is how fear drives Bigger’s actions in the story, getting him into a great deal of trouble.

We see fear seep into Bigger when his friends and him decide to rob a white owned store.  During the heist, Bigger feels he will be caught so he attacks a member of his gang in order to sabotage the robbery.  This is just one example of Bigger turning to violence when he is uncertain and feels pressure.  He, again, turns to violence and accidentally kills Mary after he is afraid that he will be caught by Mrs. Dalton as he is putting her to bed.  Bigger again turns to violence after he rapes Bessie, as he is afraid she will rat him out and get him caught for all of his crimes.  This turn to violence speaks to a greater aspect.  When Bigger feels fear or pressure he immediately turns to violence, which is a causality of white oppression over black people of the time of the 1930’s.  The fear of disrupting white people’s lives causes so much fear that violence is the immediate reaction for Bigger and others like him.