Change appears in multiple manifestations in A Year Down Yonder. During the lean years of the Great Depression and the subsequent recession, life is in constant flux. Mary Alice is uprooted from her home in the big city of Chicago and must reestablish her life in her Grandma’s “hick-town,” where the local high school has only twenty-five students, and everyone knows everything about everyone else. Mary Alice does not like change, and her initial inclination is to rail against the upheaval in her life and simply break down and cry. Grandma, however, will have none of that behavior, and Mary Alice is wise enough to know that she had best just “settle in.”

As a resident of a rural community, Grandma is intimately familiar with the necessity of adapting to change. Her life is choreographed by the seasons; for example, as an accomplished baker, she uses whatever fresh produce is available at any give time. As she explains to Mary Alice:

You don’t make a pie out of canned fruit until the dead of winter when you don’t have any choice.

Fall is a time of preparation, and Grandma forages and gathers “against the long winter.” When the snows come, she goes trapping, and in the spring she plants her garden and washes everything clean. Grandma knows how to submit to the rhythms of the seasons, and she handles other life changes with the same equanimity. Some of these changes—such as suddenly being saddled with the responsibility of raising a petulant, adolescent granddaughter and then having to let her go after she has grown to love her tremendously—are painfully difficult, but Grandma never wavers in accepting them and doing what needs to be done.

Through Grandma’s example and firm but loving guidance, Mary Alice learns to accept and deal effectively with the vicissitudes of life. In doing so, she is transformed from a balky teenager into a capable and discerning young woman. The ability to deal constructively with change enables Mary Alice to weather the turbulence of the World War II years with dignity and grace, and in the end, she “live[s] happily ever after.”


Poverty is a second theme that pervades all aspects of the narrative. The Great Depression is technically over, but hard times linger on. Mary Alice is sent to live with Grandma because her father loses his job, and the only living arrangements her parents can...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)