Study Guide

A Hologram for the King Hard vs. Soft Goods = Real vs. Illusory

By Dave Eggers

Hard vs. Soft Goods = Real vs. Illusory

There's a real battle going on in this book, but this isn't the kind of battle that great HBO shows are made of. There's no bloodshed, rampaging hoards, or stampeding elephants. Nope: this is a war between Things (manufacturing) and Knowledge (technology, patents, ideas).

And Alan's caught between these two worlds, since his professional life straddles a time of change in America. As the country shifts away from the manufacture of hard goods, a whole generation of factory workers, goods-makers, and salesmen find themselves out of a job and lacking in purpose.

The underlying assumption in the country is that things are somehow superior to ideas. It's a yearning to get back to a time when the average Joe or Jane could make a good living with minimal technical skill—or in Alan's case, with good people skills.

There's some merit in this, of course: to be able to make things for ourselves makes us self-sufficient and gives us pride. But it also misses a major truth: the world has moved on.

But Alan's dad can't help but fall into the trap of thinking that making stuff is somehow more real or valid than innovating new technologies (especially when that stuff is made overseas):

"They're making actual things over there, and we're making websites and holograms. Every day our people are making their websites and holograms, while sitting in chairs made in China, driving over your bridges made in China." (XII.69.87)

Ron can't acknowledge how revolutionary holographic technology is when his own path to prosperity has become obsolete. And this issue is a struggle for Alan, too. He knows that he has to move into the future, but change is hard to come by…not to mention just plain hard.