Study Guide

Ron Clay in A Hologram for the King

By Dave Eggers

Ron Clay

Grumpy Old Man

If you've got that irascible old dude in your family who always ruins Thanksgiving dinner by talking about how horrible modern times are, then you already know Alan's dad.

Ron Clay isn't trying to win any Mr. Congeniality prizes.

He's fired up about the mess Alan's made of his life, and he has no filter. Oh, yeah: and he has no empathy for the man who did his best to offshore as many manufacturing jobs as possible:

Ron had been a union man. They made fifty thousand shoes a day at Stride Rite! he'd say. In Roxbury! [...] He'd retired with a full pension. But that was before the company ditched the unions and moved production to Kentucky. That was 1992. Five years later they moved all production to Thailand and China. All this made Alan's role at Schwinn even more disagreeable to Ron. (XII.43.85)

In some sense, he personally blames Alan for everything that's wrong with America: the movement of jobs from manufacturing to technology, the loss of American jobs to cheaper overseas labor, the downfall of labor unions—even the contracting of bridge-building to foreign companies. Alan's pretty much the whipping boy for all of Ron's grievances.

Thanks, Dad.

Changing Man

Ron's crass, obnoxious, and abrasive now, but Alan insists that he wasn't always like that. He attributes his dad's troglodyte behavior to the loss of his mother. Now, don't go all gushy thinking about a sweet, lullaby-singing mama figure—Alan's mom was also kind of a nightmare. She was a tough cookie who couldn't stand things like weakness. But she also couldn't stand vulgar behavior.

This change in behavior puts Alan in a tough spot:

This was all new, acting the part of a caveman. Alan's mother never would have stood for such barbarity. But who was the real Ron? Maybe this was him, the man he was before his wife, Alan's mother, refined him, improved him? He had settled back to his natural form. (XII.49.85)

For whatever reason, Ron becomes solitary, gross, and embittered. And he saves his best venom for his son. It's not clear that Ron had ever been a particularly supportive or kind type of father before, though. When Alan tells Zahra Hakem the story of a "survival" night in the winter woods with his father, she's pretty appalled ("[...] I find just about all of it […] very sad") (XXXIII.325). And to be honest, so are we.

We know that things haven't changed over the years for father and son. When Alan tries to redeem himself and strike out on his own, Ron's not impressed. Instead of praising his son for trying to bring manufacturing back to Massachusetts, he goes for the jugular:

"Too late, Sonny."
When he said Sonny, he meant Pissant.
(XVIII.16-18.143)

It's possible that Eggers wants to create genuine sympathy for Alan by making Ron such a harsh critter, but we suspect his aim is higher. He wants to build a world that is so devoid of kindness and humanity that we begin to feel just a bit sorry for everyone who has to live in it.

And since this is a vision of our world, it's probable that Eggers is asking us to be a bit kinder—to understand the complexity of the mistakes that got us into whatever mess we're currently in.

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