Wall Street and Main Street as Synecdoche


Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this excellent Chronicle of Higher Educaton piece by Carlin Romano, one of the best essayists at work today:

Everyone uses synecdoche, even if no student can tell you what it is.

Wall Street…stands for such an astounding range of financial activities and behaviors, from the deceptions of a Charles Ponzi to the admired stewardship of "heroic savior" J.P. Morgan, that it's virtually meaningless as a description. Are we equally angry, after all, at hedge-fund traders, "credit swap" inventors, and the friendly guy at the downtown Charles Schwab?…

take a look at Main Street (1920) by Sinclair Lewis, the novel by America's first Nobel laureate in literature that made the other pole of our synecdoche circus a household phrase…. Far from endorsing the current sense of the metaphor as a home for good, decent, hardworking Americans abused by Wall Street, Lewis saw his book as denouncing, in Matthew Bruccoli's words, "the myth of wholesome small-town America." Indeed, in his 1930 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Lewis declared that he'd meant to oppose the fictional tradition that "all of us in mid-Western villages were altogether noble and happy." Rather, Lewis said he had learned from Hamlin Garland that "mid-Western peasants sometimes were bewildered and hungry and vile."…

An indisputable conclusion, nonetheless, is that Gordon Gekko doesn't live on "Wall Street" any more than the rest of us live on "Main Street"—or receive our mail at General Post Office. If Americans are to work through this mess and demand the naming of names, we need precise addresses too.

Whole thing here.