Do we really want to share in the American dream to be rich and famous? Not if we have followed the saga of Patricia Campbell Hearst, favored daughter of an American cultural icon, the millionaire newspaper family.
''Every Secret Thing,'' Patty Hearst's own last word on her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army in February 1974, is a bitter commentary on the impotence of wealth and position. Far from exerting their imperialism, the Hearsts and their millions couldn't rescue one of their own from a ragtag band of revolutionaries. They couldn't buy Patty's exoneration from charges of bank robbery or prevent her from serving a prison sentence. They couldn't shield an unremarkable teen-ager from five years of exploitation and humiliation accompanied by a three-ring-circus trial, probably one of the most publicized in our history.
The amazing thing is that the thin, frail, weepy, unlettered, apolitical girl survived it all. In those five years between her kidnapping on a peaceful day in Berkeley and the executive clemency granted by President Carter, Patty dealt with mental and physical abuse, including rape and blackened eyes, illness, weight loss, nightmares, and enough criticism and condescension from friends and foes alike to undermine the strongest spirit.
But she survived. Of course, she pats herself on the back for this in ''Every Secret Thing,'' and at the same time, gives all those she considers her tormentors their due lumps. She reminds readers with zealous regularity that, unlike the other renegades, she was a kidnap victim who was turned into a brainwashed prisoner of war, a robot. She argues that she could no more have left her captors than a monkey could leave the organ grinder.
When we read her account of spending 57 days in a small, dark closet, we might admire her stamina. When we read how the SLA told her over and over again of the FBI storming radical hideouts, shooting through doors, killing everyone inside, asking no questions, we could share her terror. When we read that she decided to go along with her captors to stay alive, we could appreciate her native cunning.
But we didn't when she testified at the trial, and some of us still don't. We preferred to believe she was either a spoiled rich kid who found a new thrill as a revolutionary, or a coward. We wanted more from an 18-year-old, whose most difficult decision up to the time of her capture was whether or not to become a debutante, than we would be prepared to give ourselves. We blamed her for not running, not killing her captors, not turning herself in when she got the opportunity.
Patty can't understand this exhortation from the stands for the Christian to slay the lions. She knows she wasn't a Joan of Arc, that all she wanted to do was survive. She can't forgive our condemnation for her lack of ''courage'' or ''honor.'' We saw too much evidence of complicity in her agitprop tapes, made under duress, she claims, in naming herself an ''urban guerrilla'' when she was captured, and in rashly confiding to her best friend soon after her capture that her ''politics had changed since her kidnapping.''
How many of us, given the circumstances, would have behaved differently? The SLA, after all, was made up of a convict leading a bunch of mentally unsound gun-slingers, playing fondly and carelessly with their bombs and their guns. Emily Harris accidentally shot a woman bystander to death in a bank robbery. Several times the group barely escaped shooting or blowing up each other.
How many of us wouldn't have been horrified, as Patricia was, to watch on color TV the shoot-out in Los Angeles, when six SLA members died in the blazing shell of their ''safehouse''? Wasn't that exactly what the leader, Donald DeFreeze, had predicted? And except for an accident of fate, she would have been there, too. She says: ''There was no turning back. . . . I sat there sobbing - not for my comrades but for myself.''
Patty Hearst lived another year in flight, and events proved she was right to be anxious. Her eventual treatment at the hands of American justice would be as tormenting as at the hands of the SLA. When she was finally captured, she was placed on trial for bank robbery and convicted. She calls the trial a ''farce.''
It's hard to disagree. Several prominent psychiatrists testified to her having been brainwashed and subjected to the three D's of Maoist thought reform - debilitated, dependent, and filled with dread. The jury didn't buy it. Her famous lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, seemed more interested in his own image and public relations, to say nothing of the book on the case he planned to write, than in his client's innocence. The judge commented publicly on the trial.
But Patricia Hearst has survived. Now married, the mother of a child, she lives a life of tight security, surrounded by walls, burglar alarms, guard dogs. She spent 18 months working with Alvin Moscow, an established writer, to produce ''Every Secret Thing.'' The account is thorough and believable, but a little too slick, too professional. It demonstrates more of Mr. Moscow's skill and less of Patty herself. The even tones makes it seem that her extensive psychological counseling worked better than her halting conversation and long pauses in a recent television interview would suggest.
She's not apologizing anymore, however. Her parting shot in ''Every Secret Thing'' is, ''I don't see anything wrong with being Patricia Hearst.'' That's the kind of resilience that Grandfather William Randolph would have understood and admired. Do we?