Grace Note

 Posted by on May 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm  Season 5
May 022012

Peggy tells Megan, with faux casualness, that she’s been busy and still owes The Drapers a wedding present.  She’s not really casual about it, because it wouldn’t still be on her mind unless she felt guilt. A couple seasons earlier, she is quick to buy a gift for the newborn Gene. “Ma” might be a piece of work, but she raised Peggy to be respectable, to not embarrass her with bad manners.  Peggy knows all-too-well what is expected of her.

Is there anything that better says “well brought up,” particularly to older generations, than writing a thank-you note, and in a timely fashion? Dawn was the perfect guest, even when Peggy was not the perfect hostess. That, in itself, along with the carefully folded blanket, can be seen as a subtle rebuke. She comes from a good family, she knows about thank-you notes, folding the blanket/making the bed, and her family worries about her as she seeks independence and a career in the city.

That she left the note on Peggy’s purse? Too pointed to be coincidental. She is hurt, possibly angry, and there is nothing much she can overtly say about it, so the placement of the note says what she can’t. Despite Peggy talking about sticking together, and like Hollis and Pete in the elevator, Dawn is in a precarious situation. Hollis and Dawn know that it’s easy for the person with the real power and privilege to say “everyone is equal here,” but that believing that is foolish. This woman has every right to be passive-aggressive in a way that she can deny if need be.

Peggy, because she is a decent person who’d offered the invitation with the best intentions, felt shame within moments of distrusting Dawn, and more shame upon seeing the note. She knows she is still a product of her upbringing, no matter how much she despises it. But the same rearing that made her suspicious of Dawn also taught her to be polite.

Dawn in a few sentences made clear to Peggy that they really do have a lot in common, right down to a way with words and an understanding of subtext.


  30 Responses to “Grace Note”

  1. Wow, what a great catch! What I also noticed is this is not the first time either that Peggy has been in a double-bind about race relations–and money, for that matter. Remember back in, I think Season 1, when money was missing from her locker and she complained to managment about it? Who were the first scapegoats–the (African-American) elevator guys who got fired. She was heartbroken and chagrined; ironically, and justifiably upset about a wrong committed against her (stealing), it got twisted and used as a power play. A case of a bad deed (stealing) going (un)punished because the real crime was the firing of two innocent people.

    It is so hard, even when you know it is wrong, to dispel what was ingrained in you in early life. To paraphrase that song in “South Pacific”prejudice must be very carefully thought. And if you are essentially powerless, like Dawn, Hollis and Peter, being passive-agressive is the best defense.

    • I think in this case, passive-aggressive is not the right word, though. Passive-aggressive is hardly ever effective. It usually just makes the recipient angry and LESS likely to see what they did wrong.

      • Maybe it should be “agressively–passive” or “actively-passive” instead? Or plain old “subtrefuge?” Dawn was clearly tyring to get a message across, but she did it covertly instead of overtly, instead of direct confrontation, which can be very risky; if you are in a position of powerlessness, which Dawn knows she still is in the world at large, no matter what Peggy might say.

        • I think the word is “subtle”. It was pointed, but subtle. Passive-aggressive is often mean, and the intended recipient feels it. I disagree that there was aggression involved, is what I’m trying to say. There was assertion, as in “You suspected me unfairly and I want you to pay attention that it was not cool”. Whereas even passive-aggressiveness is offensive. I think Dawn made her point well, in the only way she could, bound both by the powerlessness of race AND by the rules of etiquette. I mean, even people of the same race can’t outright confront a host and start a fight when there’s an implied insult, especially when all it was was a pause, and not a blatant accusation.

          • Marly K,
            Thanks for taking my original thought and refining it, couldn’t have said it better myself. I’d like to point out that even though we’re talking about prejudice and race relations, that this is a beautiful instance where etiquette, trivial as it so often seems, saves the day. True etiquette, which is far more than knowing which fork to use, is at its heart, designed to either make people feel comfortable and/or provide rules of engagement to keep people (literally in former centuries) from tearing each other apart. As Miss Manners so often points out, answering a rudeness with a rudeness is not only bad form but bad manners. The beauty of Dawn’s response was that she not only made her point, but did it without being rude in the least. The tragedy was the innante prejudice, so difficult to erase, that caused the misunderstanding in the first place.

          • SFCaramia,

            I take it Judith Martin still has a column?

            Our local rag (Anchorage Daily News) dropped Miss Manners some time ago

            (Clearly, I wasn’t consulted)

          • I ADORE Miss Manners. I used to work for United Media, and it was one of the syndicated columns that we translated into Spanish. Manners are so important. It takes a particular kind of grace and talent to pull of what Dawn did. I certainly hope that the MM writers develop her more.

            Wouldn’t it be cool (and daring) to have a season in which the stories we’ve already seen get interwoven from a black perspective? So, one day maybe we finally get to see Carla at home. Hmm. Now that I think about this, is it me or have all the recurring black characters been women?

  2. Such a great post. It made me look forward to Dawn’s character development on the show.

  3. Thanks for pointing that out. I saw the note on the bag and thought “That cannot be a coincidence, can it?”

    Too bad we are not seeing more of Dawn, it’s almost like they just got her out of the box to show she’s there and now she’s back in.

  4. Ironically Peggy whose family background no one would consider radical or left-leaning has the potential to become more socially active or conscious than Megan whose father is described by Don as either “a socialist, Communist or Maoist.”

    To say that Peggy does not fully understand the counterculture of the 1960’s would not be a stretch. She was NOT raised in that environment. Thus in that naivete imho she is more than willing to listen to the viewpoints of the counterculture on various issues and then adapt her life to these views. Why does Megan appear not to embrace it? She has heard it all her life and in her words to her father they don’t agree on politics.

    And then to the idea of guilt. Notice after Peggy was informed by Abe that Filmore Auto Parts was not hiring Negroes in the South, Peggy asked Don why SCDP was doing business with them. Don said, “Our job is to convince men to like FAP, not to convince FAP to like Negroes.”

    But something interesting happened after Don’s answer. Peggy said nothing and did NOT challenge Don. This tells me she still doesn’t feel comfortable in this territory and also she is caught between the two words of capitalist enterprise as represented by SCDP and the Leftist outlook as represented by Abe. And I see this scenario playing out over the rest of season five until the end of the series assuming Peggy is still a member of the cast. An event occurs, Peggy feels guilty, she may even attend meetings but she can never completely divorce herself of the capitalist mentality of SCDP no matter how much Abe or his cohorts try to radicalize her.

    What many people miss about Peggy is what she voiced to Abe in season four when she tells Abe in a bar about how women are discriminated against and also need “civil rights.” Abe makes fun of Peggy for saying that but in doing so he underestimates Peggy’s desire as a lone female copywriter at SCDP to succeed in a man’s world and to fight for that opportunity. But Peggy like everyone else only has so much time and energy to give and I do believe she will eventually come to the conclusion to devote her time and energy to pursuing her career in advertising than to “saving the world.”

    As for Megan, Emile is pissed off at her because she has no desire to save the world. She has only two desires in life now: To love Don and to help him save himself from himself and to pursue her career as a copywriter in the advertising industry. Megan has absolutely no interest in the American counterculture movement and feels no guilt whatsoever that she does not.

    Megan said it herself to Don in season four episode 11 Chinese Wall: “You judge people on their work. I’m the same way. Everything else is sentimental.”

    Interestingly both Peggy and Megan were raised Roman Catholics. That’s where the similarity ends.

    • Did I miss something where it was revealed that Megan was raised as a Catholic? I know her parents probably come from Catholic families. But he is a Marxist and she is a very “free spirit”, I don’t think they’d be raising her in a religious tradition.

  5. I’m not sure how Peggy was anything less than a perfect host to Dawn? She brought her home to her apartment and opened up to her as just another person, not a “black person”. I read the purse scene as representing the way white people often tip-toe around relations with black people, ever-conscious of not offending them. For all we know, Peggy wanted to take her purse because there was something in it she needed, or perhaps she always kept it in her bedroom out of habit, or any number of other reasons. Then she though “oh no…if I take my purse, she’ll think I’m worried she’s going to steal something because she’s black…I’d better leave it sitting there.” Real progress will be apparent when someone like Peggy can take her purse off the coffee table without worrying about how others may perceive it.

    • I think that’s exactly the point. The fact that she thought herself into a twist that led to that awkward pause that each understood was due to Dawn’s race – whatever the reasoning behind the pause – completely exhibits the fact that, whether we are gracious hosts, good guests, or perfect strangers, our interactions across race lines are always loaded with our histories that come before us, whether we agree or not. Peggy does not want to “seem” like she’s making an implied accusation any more than Dawn wants to “seem” like she might rob her. But those positions are there, and that is that.

    • What if Dawn wasn’t black? And if Peggy had acted in the same manner. Would the reaction have been the same?

      A stranger is a stranger whether he or she is white, Black, Asian or whatever. It’s a trust issue not a race issue imho.

      • They’re not quite strangers, though. They’re co-workers. This makes it a wee bit different. You’re not going to necessarily trust a co-worker enough to open up, but you wouldn’t really think twice about leaving your bag with them, especially if they’re the only other person around. And most co-workers, even thieving ones (who do obviously exist), wouldn’t be stupid enough to take anything from your bag if they’re the only likely suspect. Would Peggy had paused with any other new co-worker?

        I love Peggy, but I did read that pause as wondering for a fraction of a second about whether or not Dawn was trustworthy. And yes, that pause struck me as racist.

        • Dawn had just recently been hired. She was practically a stranger. It was quite kind of Peggy to invite her home for the night. Peggy was right to take her purse. It is only because Dawn is black that it is a problem. If Dawn ahd been white, Peggy would have scooped up her purse and that would be that. But Peggy has to tread carefully lest Dawn think Peggy is prejudiced. On top of it Peggy had all that Roger bribe money in her purse. Who leaves a purse with tons of cash laying around? I wouldn’t.

          • I forgot about the Roger money! I forgot it even as I watched the episode.

            But I still think that pause was too significant not to be a little racist. Sorry. My opinion.

          • I agree, Marylou. Honestly, I really never leave my purse lying around. I live in the city and you do learn to be savvy about stuff like that. I have roommates and I don’t think they’d steal from me– I might leave my purse out in the kitchen if I’m in the other room for a few minutes–but when I go to sleep at night, there’s no way I’d just leave it in a different room than the one I was sleeping in. It’s just not in my comfort zone and maybe I’m just overprotective of my belongings. But, they are my belongings.

            I do agree with everyone that the pause meant something. Maybe Peggy thinking, “Uh oh, I want my purse, but I don’t want to hurt Dawn’s feelings–maybe she’ll think I’m suspicious because she’s black–geez what should I do–she’s looking at me and I think she knows what’s going through my mind!-oh well, I’ll just act casual and start cleaning up and then go into the other room. I’m sure it will all be fine. I hope so, anyway. Shit.”

          • Yes, having that much money in my purse, I’d want to bring it into my bedroom.

            But, here’s the thing, this is the mid-60s. Peggy grew up — just like everyone else at the time — in a segregated, prejudiced society and those corrupt ideas had to seep into her consciousness, just like she’s operating under notions that would now be seen as clearly sexist. We’re talking about a moment in history in which these notions were just beginning to be questioned. This is one of the few instances, if not the first that we’ve seen, in which Peggy has had a chance to actually have an honest conversation with a black person. Peggy is more comfortable than Dawn during this.

            Some of the racist crap is going to come up, without her intending to, because it was so pervasive and because it was so unquestioned. This does not make Peggy bad, but A LOT was going on during that pause and some of what going on was the unconscious replaying of those racist messages. Think about it. How can she not have had a racist thought, however fleetingly, given the time and place? By the way, yes, at that moment too she recognized that it was wrong. This is why she paused for such a long time. She squelched it, which means that she, ultimately questioned her automatic racism. But that was both a horrible moment and a moment of enlightenment precisely because she squelched it. And if there had been no automatic racism driven by the pervasive racism of the time, then Dawn’s note would not have struck the chord that it did.

            We are looking at that scene through 21st Century eyes when we don’t want to look honestly at the possibility that someone at that point in history could’ve been both a good person and have racist notions. People were asleep at the wheel when it came to human rights, and this was a moment of awakening. MOST PEOPLE had to be educated in that regard, and a lot of it was due to the fact that they probably never interacted with someone of a different race. And trying to be a decent human being doesn’t mean that you never have those dark, racist, sexist moments. It means that you recognize them and take the high road in spite of those moments in which your ingrained cultural reaction is sexist, homophobic, racist, or xenophobic.

            If the MM writers designated some characters as racist and others as automatically not racist, without depicting some of those human and normal lapses of unwitting injustice, then they would be doing some very facile and lazy writing.

            • This is what I’ve been trying to say, but you said it better.

              As I say all the time, “racist” isn’t a noun, it’s an adjective. It is descriptive not defining.

          • Peggy has to tread carefully lest Dawn think Peggy is prejudiced.

            That’s possible, but that’s much more in keeping with how we think now. It’s more likely that Peggy herself had the racist thought and was ashamed of it.

            It’s time we all got off our high horses and stopped acting like we’re not racist. Racism is a cultural system much bigger than any individual’s prejudices. It infects all of us. Peggy had, for lack of a better phrase, a moment of infection, and it damaged both women.

        • It stopped letting us reply to a reply . .

          But so true. It is hard sometimes to tease out when am I looking at this through 2012 eyes and when am I looking at it through 1966 eyes.

          Peggy is a nice person but she may be struggling a bit. My bet is on Peggy coming out the right end whenever she does struggle with this sort of thing! 🙂

        • I’ve been robbed by a co-worker. I take my purse.

      • Exactly!

        • The pause was a miscommunication out of fear of being seen as a racist. It was racist. It does not make Peggy any less of a human being. We are all prejudiced. Everyone. Does not make us Dr. Evil.
          What if the person on the couch had been Don? Does it add an element of socioeconomics to the alchemy? Not only is Dawn black, she more than likely is close to being broke or flat broke. File this under; One To Grow On for Peggy. Dawn was very graceful in her note. But ask yourself, did
          Dawn have any other choice? Lest she incur the wrath of ‘the man’. Peggy being the heavy here.

    • Good points, Bridget and Techno, I hadn’t really thought of that. I guess if Peggy would have just walked up and taken her purse like it was nothing, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

    • I think, the way Peggy froze, she thought “black person” and “purse.” OR, she thought “purse,” and then thought “black person just saw me thinking ‘purse.'” Either way, Dawn did see, and the awkwardness was a barrier between them that couldn’t be surmounted.

      If you notice, last week when Peggy fell asleep on Don’s couch and Dawn woke her up, she called her “Miss Olson.”

  6. oops: innate, that is. 🙂

  7. Someone brought up Dawn awakening Peggy at the office after “the purse incident” and calling her Miss Olson.

    I interpret that in one of two ways. Either Dawn is determined not to let their confab at Peggy’s apartment influence their relationship at work or Peggy is considered a major player at SCDP and perhaps not even aware of the power that she carries and the writers of MM wanted to convey that.

    The focus has mostly been on Peggy finding her place in a man’s world and not being recognized or highly regarded when in fact over time she may have been earning more respect at SCDP as time moves along. One of the most difficult things for human beings to do is to update how people view them unless there is a significant event that points to one deserving more recognition or cachet (Megan in the boardroom being complimented by Don and Ken for saving the Heinz account).

    For Peggy however, that increased recognition and status has been incremental and like a mother who is with her son everyday and does not realize the growth he has made in height over several months, Peggy does not realize how much more important she has become to SCDP.

    • All the secretaries are supposed to call their bosses Mr., Mrs. or Miss. I don’t ascribe any special significance to Dawn’s calling Peggy “Miss Olson” in the work situation.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.