America Day by Day by Simone de Beauvoir

America day by day by Simone de Beauvoir1

In January of 1947, Simone de Beauvoir, existentialist philosopher, novelist, and author of feminist classic The Second Sex, landed at La Guardia airport. From there she embarked on a months-long journey from one end of the U.S. to the other.

Immersing herself in American culture, customs, and vistas, she kept a detailed diary that was published in France in 1948. It was first published in an American edition in 1954.

The University of California Press published a more recent edition in 1999, describing it as “one of the most intimate, warm, and compulsively readable texts from the great writer’s pen.” The publisher’s description continued:

“Fascinating passages are devoted to Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and San Antonio. We see de Beauvoir gambling in a Reno casino, smoking her first marijuana cigarette in the Plaza Hotel, donning rain gear to view Niagara Falls, lecturing at Vassar College, and learning firsthand about the Chicago underworld of morphine addicts and petty thieves with her lover Nelson Algren as her guide.

This fresh, faithful translation superbly captures the essence of Simone de Beauvoir’s distinctive voice. It demonstrates once again why she is one of the most profound, original, and influential writers and thinkers of the twentieth century.”

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The second sex by Simone de Beauvoir

See also: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
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How much of the American cultural landscape has changed since Simone de Beauvoir observed it in 1947? Doubtless, this is a fascinating read. Here is how one reviewer saw her efforts when the book first appeared in the U.S.:


A 1954 review of America Day by Day

From the original review by Helen K. Fairall in the Des Moines Register, January 10, 1954, of America Day by Day by Simone de Beauvoir:

Visitor from France Found Much to Dislike in U.S.A.

It was bound to happen — that a vocal Frenchwoman would turn the tables (and not the other cheek) on the many critical American women who have “done” France to a crisp after they returned to the U.S. Simone de Beauvoir is an extremely thoughtful observer but she has her phobias.

She came to New York, then covered the United States by train, plane, bus, and automobiles belonging to friends who she contacted wherever she stopped.

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Simone de Beauvoir

You might also like: Philosophical Quotes by Simone de Beauvoir
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Student apathy

Chicago to her was the most depressing city, with its lake front a false facade to hide its miseries. Paradoxically she found Chicago, as well as New York, to be “the most stimulating” cities.

The colleges and universities she visited were failing to develop thinkers, in her view. In the students she found apathy toward world problems, an unawareness of future responsibilities, and ignorance of Europe’s complexities.

The hundreds of towns strung across the country were all alike — but with different names — until she reached California.


Observed hatreds

The sunshine, dust, and noise of Los Angeles had the ugliness of a Paris fair and the traffic was frightening, apparently not recalling to her the traffic jams and speed in Paris.

Texas opened her eyes to the “hatreds of the South” which she found from there to Charleston. New Orleans, with its legendary beauty, she knew to be “one of the most wretched cities in America — its stagnant luxury ambiguous.”

American drugstores fascinated her. They embraced all the bizarre qualities of the general stores of the pioneer west. The opulence of the overheated hotels crushed her.

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America day by day by Simone de Beauvoir

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Personal bias

The good will and helpfulness of the people attracted yet irritated Simone de Beauvoir. They identified virtue with prosperity and loved to impose upon others all that was good. What distressed her most was the average American’s inclination to seek the source of valued “in things, not in themselves.”

Some of her criticism is valid. Her observations on the cities and the ways of American life are pointed. What this reviewer objects to is her use of a personal bias to exploit controversial American problems. Perhaps a continental understands them as poorly as Americans understand French politics.


Quotes from America Day by Day

“There’s something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

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” … Americans love speed, alcohol, film thrills and sensational news. They feverishly demand something more and, again, something more, never able to quell their restlessness. Yet here, as everywhere else, life repeats itself day after day, so people amuse themselves with gadgets, and lacking real projects, they cultivate hobbies.
      These manias allow them to pretend to take responsibility, by choice, for their daily habits. Sports, movies, and comics all offer distractions. But in the end, people are always faced with what they wanted to escape: the arid basis of American life—boredom.”

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“I hope I am not fated to live in Rochester.”

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“[Americans] respect the past, but as an embalmed monument; the idea of a living past integrated with the present is alien to them. They want to know only a present that’s cut off from the flow of time, and the future they project is one that can be mechanically deduced from it, not one whose slow ripening or abrupt explosion implies unpredictable risks.”

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