These piquant passages are from a letter written by Ted Hughes to his sister Olwyn, dated August 22, 1957. Hughes and Plath had moved to Eastham, Massachusetts, where the couple lived before she took up a teaching job at Smith College, her alma mater, in nearby Northampton. His outsider’s insight into the condition of ’50s America reminds me of Tocqueville, though Tocqueville’s fascination yields, in Hughes, to a visceral alarm:
What a place America is. Everything is in cellophane. Everything is 10,000 miles from where it was plucked or made. The bread is in cellophane that is covered with such slogans as de-crapularised, re-energised, multi-cramulated, bleached, double-bleached, rebrowned, unsanforised, guaranteed no blasphemin. There is no such thing as bread.
This is my main impression of America—it is a temporary expedition, in which we’re living on food we brought to last the expedition out. And we mustn’t put up houses to last more than a year because we shall soon get done before we leave that there’s no time to do more than sleep & hurry. There’s something like a temporary mountain-top expedition, too, in the way everybody’s so friendly, and nobody knows anybody else’s family history, and nobody ever bothers to get to know anybody except on purely temporary and facetious terms. Little I know about it. Maybe it’s different when you live & work in a place. Northampton was fairly English—all the shops & streets huddled together—so maybe that will be more congenial. But most of America is a boundless suburbia.