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”The Happiest Man On Earth” by Albert Maltz

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In Albert Maltz’s short story, a perenially unemployed drifter named Jesse Fulton becomes the eponymous Happiest Man On Earth when, after much persuasion, his brother-in-law Tom Brackett reluctantly gives him a job hauling nitroglycerine by truck.

            In this story, The Happiest Man On Earth is any individual who has fallen so low in terms of dignity and welfare that the promise of any form of employment, no matter how dangerous or minimally compensated, is enough to send him into a state of reverie. Is Fulton really the happiest man on Earth, as Maltz suggests?

            Once the picture of handsomely strapping youth, Fulton was once a well-muscled young man but has now become gaunt and spindly, and describes his wife as being a former head-turner whom he can now barely stand to look at. Generally speaking, although it is arguable what precisely constitutes happiness, Maltz’s definition of happiness is contingent on the station of life of the individual in question.

            It is in such a sense that Fulton is quite rightly The Happiest Man On Earth. He has become so unhappy with his plight — his inability to provide for his family, to carry himself with some pride — that a mere trucking job, regardless of its high mortality rate, is extreme happiness.

            Maltz convinces us that happiness is not just a subjective concept but one that is qualifiably defined on the quality of life of the individual in question. The story was after all, written in 1938, during the Great Depression, at a time when most people, even educated ones or those from well-to-do families, were just looking for a means to feed themselves.

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