Critical Evaluation

Bobbie Ann Mason is a prize-winning author of several novels and collections of short stories, as well as works of nonfiction. She earned a doctorate at the University of Connecticut in 1972, specializing in the works of Vladimir Nabokov. She taught journalism part-time for several years but turned to writing full-time in 1978, publishing her first story in The New Yorker in 1980.

Most often her fiction reflects her experiences of growing up in a small southern town, her youthful desires to escape into the larger world, and her interest in popular culture. Such is the case with In Country, a bildungsroman set in fictitious Hopewell, Kentucky, in 1984.

Using the genre of the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, allows Mason to treat several important, pertinent themes, both classical and contemporary. Among these themes, none is more compelling than the classical search for identity. At the age of seventeen, Sam Hughes is at an important crossroads, eager to move on to life beyond high school and her small town but unsure of how to safely and successfully negotiate the journey. She spends her time assembling the pieces of her life story, filling in the gaps left by her father’s death in Vietnam and trying to understand and make whole the situations of several family members and friends.

Like Telemachus of Homer’s Odyssey, Sam must find out who she is before she can begin her life’s work as a complete human being. To do this she must first know her father. In pursuing her father, she learns the history of the war and the role of the United States in it, thus revealing another important theme: a country trying to understand a controversial war. Her visit to the newly built Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the novel’s end allows Sam to know her father by touching his name on the wall, and allows Mason to represent the awakening consciousness of the United States to the truth of...

(The entire section is 794 words.)