Hey! Randy

What’s Your Price?

Posted by heyrandy on July 7, 2012

The Child Buyer, John Hersey, 1960

Would you sell your eight-year child? No? You have not met Mr. Wissey Jones, child buyer. He persuades people to sell. It is always easy. How? He meets their price.

Jones buys prodigies for a large, mysterious company engaged in a long-term government project. The company uses the child’s brains to solve problems. The company connects the children to a network so they each can work on a small part of the larger problem. The connection is an irreversible process.

The novel is in the form of hearings before a state senate committee. The committee comprises three senators and a counsel. All the other characters in the novel are witnesses. The buyer arrives in town in a conspicuous way: atop a folding motorcycle and dressed in gaudy clothes. He does not normally work by stealth, but he does when he needs to.

There is much initial resistance to the idea of buying a child. The buyer overcomes it by appealing to the secret needs of the opponents. Some people, such as the child’s father, agree readily when approached. The rest take time to be won over.

The book is a story of how people sell out. They sell for very little. They justify their actions by saying that it is the right thing to do. The book is a study in self-deception, rationalization, and cowardice.

What of the senate committee? They are little more than dimwitted hacks. One is obviously so, the others are more subtle. All the characters in the book have agendas. They all are fighting for the petty kingdoms. They are all corrupt even before they are bought off. The only character that comes across as a reasonable person is the prodigy’s friend, the local juvenile delinquent.

The book should cause us all to consider where we will compromise. Would any of us take a bribe? We would all shout “No!” But when the offer is put in a more subtle manner we may be tempted. The mother, the last holdout, consented for a set of books, maid service, recorded music. The woman can sit in her hovel listening to Mozart and reading Aristotle while the maid cleans both rooms. What is your price?

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