Whitemud. Canadian town, based on the real town of Eastend, in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada, where Stegner lived for about five years when he was a boy. The real town’s name derives from its location near the eastern end of the Cypress Hills, a prominent geographical feature that lies parallel to the U.S.-Canada boundary. In the fictional Whitemud and at a nearby wheat-farming homestead used only during the growing season, the Mason family has its only long-lasting home and experience of community.
The family’s Whitemud home is a two-story, eight-room house built by Bruce’s father, Bo Mason, in an attempt to salvage his marriage to Elsa, whom he had earlier deserted in Washington State. The theme of the importance of having a lasting, secure and affectionate home is the emotional core of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and the five years the Masons spend in Whitemud are the center of the novel’s exploration of this theme. Bo chooses the town simply as the latest target of his ambition to get rich quick. He regards it as a dirty little “dung-heeled sagebrush town,” but Elsa views it as a place to settle down and live respectably, if modestly. For Bruce and his older brother, Chet, Whitemud is the site of typical childhood adventures, but for Bruce, especially, it represents society and civilization, a warm place in which his precocious intelligence is molded both by culture and the natural world.
In the novel’s most lyrical episode, Bruce and his parents spend a day making an automobile trip from their homestead to the...
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