In Ann Petry’s The Novel, the scene between media executive Peter Bullock and the photographer Jubine brilliantly showcases the class and cultural conflict between an executive and a worker – a free thinker and a corporate manager. When Jubine is summoned to meet with Bullock because of Bullock’s respect (much to his chagrin) of his work and desire to hire him, Jubine laughs at Bullock’s attempt to buy him. First, he denies that Bullock would pay him more than he currently is earning, and when Bullock asks him why he doesn’t embrace material indicators of success, Jubine laughs and retorts, “I am free. But you, dear Bullock, are a slave, to custom, to a house, to a car.”
Jubine challenges Bullock’s belief system and questions the impact advertising dollars have on the actual published content and the two then begin an ideological debate that so flusters Bullock that when he comes home to his wife, he is still agitated. His wife is reading a magazine that features one of Jubine’s beautiful shots, which sends Bullock off again.
“He’s a goddamn Communist,” Bullock states, “[…] because he’s against wealth. Every chance he gets he takes a potshot at the wealthy,” (Petry, 47). In prior scenes, nothing would allude to Jubine’s communist ideology, but Petry writes this scene to showcase that in that time, anyone who displayed countercultural beliefs or who challenged cultural norms was demonized as a communist. A man who makes beautiful art, who simply depicts life as it is, to Bullock and to many other mainstream Americans at that time period, were considered communists.
Bullock’s wife’s disagreement with her husband is also significant, in that she is able to see beyond simplistic analyses of his art. “It’s the way he arranges things, or waits for hours until they arrange themselves, to fit the pattern of his thinking,” Bullock argues (Petry, 49). When his wife retorts that poor people may actually have dignity, Bullock argues again that this line of thinking is also communism and that he won’t buy anymore of his pictures.
And then, just like that, their debate ends. Bullock does not want to be in the dog house for arguing with his wife, and he seems to realize the unimportance of the debate. So he changes the subject, and they lie in bed together, and he asks her who thought of the idea to put a kingsize bed in their room. Petry does not let the subject and argument die and does not let the husband end the conversation with sex. Without missing a beat, Bullock’s wife teases, “Stalin thought it up – part of the Communist plot to hasten the downfall of the capitalist class,” (Petry, 50).