We all know a boy like William Jackson, the anti-hero of The Profligate Son. He has a devoted mother, an upright father and a colossal sense of entitlement. He goes off the rails at school and never gets back on course. He hangs out with the fast crowd, lives beyond his means and gets by on credit and the strength of his good name. He shows off to the girls and accumulates debts; debt swallows debt, his parents despair, he promises to change his ways and possibly even intends to do so, but he falls at every hurdle. What is to be done with him? Should he be bailed out, or kicked out? Is tough love the answer, or compassionate understanding?
William Jackson was shredding the nerves of his parents at a time when debtors were seen less as victims of a consumer society than criminals to be punished by imprisonment or deportation. It is not a plot spoiler to reveal that Jackson’s father, a complex man who made his fortune