Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Early in the narrative of Country Place, Pop Fraser makes the statement that “wheresoever men dwell there is always a vein of violence running under the surface quiet.” In interviews, Petry described her experience as a member of one of only two black families who lived in the small New England coastal town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Her father was a prominent and respected member of the community as a pharmacist, yet his status did not prevent Petry and her sister from being stoned by white children on their way home from school. Petry used her tragic firsthand experience to illustrate the violence and bigotry underlying the foundations of any community, be it urban city or rural town. Her narrative dispels the myth of picturesque small-town perfection and challenges the idealized image of serenity and peace within such communities. In its place, Petry offers a picture of bigotry, vindictiveness, greed, and conflict. More important, using Lennox as a microcosm, Petry examines society as a whole to reveal the results of the conflict of tradition as it meets change—a world in a state of flux for all of its inhabitants—regardless of their culture.

The metaphor of the violent storm, which rips trees up by their roots, provides a vehicle to convey the deep displacement of individuals as they suffer the winds of change, in this case as a result of a world war. Some characters are more adept at weathering storms of change and their resulting...

(The entire section is 496 words.)