O’Hara, “Do You Like It Here?”(1939)

o'hara do you like it here smugness

A smug man.

The story perfectly captures the high school principal as smug goon, the principal’s office as a Room 101 of unbridled, sadistic authority for its own sake. Roberts is a student in a boarding school. Van Ness is either a principal or a dean. He has Roberts sit down. Van Ness plays those games, making the student wait, wonder, stew. All unnecessary, all absolutely necessary to the sadist. He is an immediate condescending fuck, asking Roberts to tell him about his life “before you decided to honor us with your presence,” and when Roberts adds “Illinois” to his Chicago genesis, Van Ness again insults him: “Well, a little geography thrown in, eh, Roberts? Gratuitously. Thank you. Proceed.” Every one of those words a slight, a put down, an order sharpening Van Ness’s role, though still we have no idea, Roberts has no idea, why he’s there. He’s not done anything that we know of, and even if he had, it would not excuse the fucker’s behavior. The condescension continues, and Van ness finally reveals that someone stole a watch, then returned it, but he’s investigating who did. And doing so by humiliating every student. The school, you see, means so much to him. The school is an institutional deity. You know the type of administrator who places a school’s emblems and traditions and abstract meanings above the worth and individuality of every student, having perfectly lost sight of purpose: the institution is an end in itself. The education of the student is incidental. O’Hara captures the madness down to the spittle forming at the edge of the dean’s mouth (even if he doesn’t go that far, you can see it):

Roberts returns to his room and cusses out Van Ness. “The bastard, the dirty bastard.”

The New Yorker, April 1, 1939