David Harum grew directly from Edward Noyes Westcott’s experiences both with the people and the customs of Upstate New York and with a type of small-town American banker. David Harum is so convincingly rooted in northeastern rural America that it stands as a good example of American “local color” fiction that developed and flourished in the United States during the last half of the nineteenth century. Although local color as a literary movement contains diverse and often contradictory elements, the main energies of its writers were devoted to sketching regional geography, customs, and dialects; it developed partly as a counter to the “American novel” or attempted to capture the whole “American” experience in one work.
What is especially interesting in David Harum is Harum himself. Westcott has succeeded in uncovering, with generous detail, the moral and psychological forces, and the central impulses as well as the crotchets, of a small-town banker in Upstate New York. Harum’s incessant horse trading, his Yankee sense, and above all, his pragmatism form the central interest of the novel. On the one hand, Harum looks out for himself and so embodies that shrewd, self-interested outlook so characteristic of his type; on the other hand, Westcott has been careful to modify this selfishness with Harum’s quiet charity and rough-hewn sense of economic justice. Thus, David Harum stands as both a regional type and as an example of a certain economic morality. He is a banker, but he is also a good man.
The weakness in the novel is the plot concerning Lenox and his sweetheart. This plot, which takes the story too far from its central interest, both geographically and morally, seems both sentimental and contrived. Actually, the difficulty Westcott experienced in sustaining a purely regional narrative, as well as his sentimentality, are weaknesses common among the local colorists.