**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Immorality Of Shop-Windows
by [?]

At the heart of morality lies content. That is a statement either optimistic or cynical, as you choose to look at it; but it is a statement of fact. Even the reformer seeks to allay his discontent, which does not arise from the morality in him, but from the immorality in other people. Anybody who has lived with a reformer knows this. Therefore are modern shop-windows–by steel construction made to occupy the maximum amount of space, to assault by breadth and brilliance the most callous eye–one of the most immoral forces in modern city life.

This is especially true of the shop-windows on Fifth Avenue, New York. For these windows, even at night illuminated like silent drawing-rooms vacant of people, expose to the view of the most humble passer on the curb as well as to the pampered rich racing by in motors, the spoils of all the world. Here are paintings by the old masters and the new; rare furniture and marbles from Italian palaces; screens from Japan; jewels and rugs from the Orient; silk stockings, curios, china, bronzes, hats, furs; and again more curios, cabinets, statues, paintings; things rare and beautiful and exotic from every quarter of the globe, “from silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon.” And they are not collections, they are not the treasures of some proud house, although they might have been once; they are for sale; they may be bought by anybody–who has the price.

But who has the price? That stout woman riding by in her limousine, with a Pomeranian on her lap instead of a baby? That fifteen-dollar-a-week chorus-girl in a cab, half buried under a two-thousand-dollar chinchilla coat? That elderly man who hobbles goutily out of his club and walks a few short blocks to his house on Murray Hill, “for exercise”? Assuredly, somebody has the price, for the shops are ever open, the allurement of their windows never less. But not you, who gaze hungry-eyed at these beautiful objects, and then go to a Sixth Avenue department store and wonder if you can afford that Persian rug made in Harlem, marked down from $50 to $48.87; or that colonial mahogany bookcase glistening with brand new varnish. Envy gnaws at your heart. And yet you had supposed that yours was a comfortable sort of income–maybe four thousand dollars a year. Your father, on that income, back in a New England suburb, was counted quite a man in the community, and you put on airs. He selected the new minister, and you set the style in socks. But now you are humiliated, embittered. You rave against predatory wealth. Thus shop-windows do make Socialists of us all.

Nor are you able to accept the shop-windows educationally, recalling that when you went to Europe you saw nothing that had not already stared at you through plate-glass on Fifth Avenue–for sale. Who wants to view one of the chairs that a Medici sat in, only to recall that months before he saw its mate in a shop-window at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street; or to contemplate a pious yellow heathen bowed down before the image of Buddha, while the tinkly temple bells are tinkling, only to have rise in his mind the memory of a much larger and more venerable Buddha which used to smile out inscrutably at the crossing of Twenty-ninth Street, below a much sweeter string of tinkly temple bells?

We’ve a bigger, better Buddha in a cleaner (!), greener (!!) land,
Many miles from Mandalay.

There is no romance in an antique, be it god or chair or China plate, when it is exposed for sale in a shop-window. And there is no romance in it amid its native surroundings when you realize that any day it may be carried off and so exposed. Thus do shop-windows destroy romance.