Richard Cory, richer than a king, "fluttered pulses when he said,/ 'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked." And in the shocking final line of E.A. Robinson's famous poem, this outwardly ideal man "went home and put a bullet through his head." Some lives are like Hollywood soundstages, all façade, and suicide is the instrument by which their hollowness is revealed. Increasingly, though, this tragedy works in reverse. Hollow men (it's almost always men) add mass murder to their suicidal outbursts, hoping to mask their nothingness with a front of brutal significance.
Jiverly Wong was unknown and unremarkable in life. Had he gone quietly like Cory, he would have died unnoticed--evidently a fate too much to bear. Instead, he blocked the rear exit of an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y., and walked with guns drawn through the front door. Thirteen people died to create Wong's illusion of importance. Or maybe illusion is the wrong word, for he certainly made himself important to them.
A rash of mass murder-suicides has left more than 50 people dead in the U.S. over the past month. Criminologist James Alan Fox, attempting to explain the killings to the Washington Post, said, "The economic pie is shrinking to the point where it looks more like a Pop-Tart." But the Dow was above 12,000 on the April morning two years ago when Cho Seung-Hui made his bid for significance at Virginia Tech. And the rampage of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School, 10 Aprils ago, came during a delirious bull run.
Those who blame America's gun culture note that sales of weapons and ammo have been brisk lately, fueled by fear of a recession-related crime wave and fear that the Obama Administration might tighten gun laws. But remember what Linda Loman said as her husband, the failed salesman Willy, headed toward his suicide: "Attention must be paid." When Arthur Miller wrote that, 60 years ago, it was a lament. Now it's a deadly threat.