Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ceremony in Lone Tree is a continuation of the story begun in The Field of Vision. Once again, Morris uses many of the same characters he employed in the previous novel: Tom Scanlon, the man who lives his life in the past; McKee, the embodiment of middle-class conventionality; McKee’s wife, Lois, a woman encased in her inhibitions; their grandson Gordon, the “infant Davy Crockett”; and Boyd, the “self-unmade man.” This time, however, the scene is different. Instead of using Mexico, Morris employs the ghost town of Lone Tree as a setting.
To the five familiar faces Morris used in The Field of Vision, Morris adds Maxine Momeyer, Scanlon’s second daughter; Maxine’s husband, Bud; and daughter Etoile, who looks like a young Lois but has none of her inhibitions. The Momeyers have a nephew named Lee Roy, who uses his car to kill two taunting classmates and who shares local headlines with Charlie Munger, a murderer who slays ten innocent victims. In addition, Morris introduces Scanlon’s third daughter, Edna; Edna’s blustery husband, Clyde; little Gordon’s inarticulate older brother, Calvin; Calvin’s outspoken mother, Eileen; a character called “Daughter” (whom Boyd picks up in a restaurant in Nevada); and an unsuccessful writer of Westerns named Jennings.
By adding to the cast of characters and changing the setting, Morris is able to refine the vision of failure he introduced in The Field of...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Tom Scanlon spends his life in the Lone Tree Hotel in Lone Tree, Nebraska, now a ghost town. The winter before he is ninety, his daughter Lois and her husband, Walter, take him on a trip to Mexico. There they run into Walter’s old friend Gordon Boyd, who left Nebraska because he could not have Lois. Later, Walter writes to Boyd and invites him to a reunion in Lone Tree late in March, on Tom’s ninetieth birthday.
After much soul-searching, Boyd leaves Acapulco in his dilapidated car and heads north. In a Nevada town, where tourists come to see nuclear bomb tests, Boyd offers a ride to a young, penniless girl. In Nebraska, after the car rolls into a ditch, Boyd and “Daughter” hop a passing freight train.
The members of Tom’s family share several worries. One is the increasing violence around them. In Lincoln, Charlie Munger shot ten people, and Bud Momeyer’s nephew, Lee Roy Momeyer, ran his car over two boys, killing them. Lois is concerned about her grandson Gordon McKee, who loves guns and likes to torment women. Even the friendly Bud has a sadistic streak; his hobby is shooting cats with a bow and arrow.
The women in the family also discuss the possibility of marriage between two cousins, the Momeyer girl, Etoile, and the older Gordon McKee’s son, Calvin. Etoile’s mother, Maxine, sees this as a chance for her daughter to catch a husband with money, but Etoile is primarily interested in sex. Calvin just wants to be free, like a cowboy. Calvin is busy planning a birthday surprise for Tom. Etoile will dress up like Tom’s late wife Samantha, and the two of them will ride into Lone Tree in a mule-drawn buggy, just as in the old days.
Unable to get into high school at home, Lee Roy went to Lincoln, where he could stay with his uncle and take classes in shop and physical education. Lee Roy and Charlie Munger, who worked with him repairing cars, were regularly bullied by some boys at school. Enraged, Charlie started shooting...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Crump, G. B. The Novels of Wright Morris: A Critical Interpretation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978. Argues that the primary theme of Ceremony in Lone Tree is the unhappy effects that the heroic ideal produces in individuals and in society. Crump’s introductory discussion of earlier critical views is helpful. Extensive bibliography.
Harper, Robert D. “Wright Morris’s ‘Ceremony in Lone Tree’: A Picture of Life in Middle America.” Western American Literature 11 (November, 1976): 199-213. In this exceptionally lucid essay, the novel is placed within the context of traditional U.S. fiction. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Morris defines the hell of white, middle-class Americans.
Howard, Leon. Wright Morris. Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers, no. 69. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968. A concise overview of Morris’ work. In a brief discussion of Ceremony at Lone Tree, Howard points out how characters from earlier novels are fleshed out in this work.
Knoll, Robert E., ed. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. This unusual volume contains essays about Morris written by four major critics and an informal conversation between each of the critics and the author. Also includes an essay by Morris, a biographical summary, and a bibliography.
Madden, David. Wright Morris. New York: Twayne, 1964. The chapter on Ceremony in Lone Tree explores the symbolic importance of the major characters, as they represent stages in the eternal process of change. Justifies Morris’ characteristic ambiguity as an honest reflection of the human condition. Annotated bibliography.