Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Western Front. World War I combat zone in which the narrator’s Norton Harjes Ambulance Service is serving the Allied forces. As an idealistic American volunteer in this Ambulance Corps, the narrator ironically experiences “prolonged indignities and injuries”; feeling badly deceived, he longs for release, a main theme of the novel. That initial release comes, paradoxically, when he is arrested by the French, along with his Harvard friend, B., on suspicion of being spies.
*Noyon (NOH-yohn). Small French city north of Paris where the narrator is interrogated by an investigative board. Kept in a cell overnight, the narrator is overcome by “an uncontrollable joy” that comes from his first sense of regaining something of his selfhood. Because he refuses to say that he hates Germany, the enemy, he is remanded for continued custody in a detention center.
Prison. Detention center and site of the enormous room, in which the novel’s main action takes place; located in the town of La Ferté-Macé in northwestern France’s Orne department, west of Paris. This most unlikely of places, filthy, smelly, and crowded with the imprisoned riff-raff from a dozen different countries, becomes for the narrator the “finest place on earth,” the place of his salvation.
Within the prison, the narrator is thrown into a huge darkened room, given a straw...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cooperman, Stanley. World War I and the American Novel. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967. Calls The Enormous Room “a carnival in a graveyard” and shows how Cummings avoids conventional rebellion by manipulating language to depict the prison as adding foolishness to tragedy.
Dougherty, James P. “E. E. Cummings: The Enormous Room.” In Landmarks of American Writing, edited by Hennig Cohen. New York: Basic Books, 1969. In The Enormous Room, Cummings’ intent was to expose the stupidity and cruelty of wartime governments. Victims are implicitly advised to undergo a process of “unlearning” previously accepted values.
Gaull, Marilyn. “Language and Identity: A Study of E. E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room.” American Quarterly 19 (Winter, 1967): 645-662. Demonstrates that since insincerely idealistic language had betrayed realists, Cummings felt compelled to create new relationships between his use of language and its accurate expression of his experiences.
Kennedy, Richard S. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. An introductory critical biography that identifies factual bases of The Enormous Room, notes its three-part structure, and details its allusions and correspondences to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Defines the work’s antiwar and antiauthority themes and its comic-opera descriptions. Lauds Cummings’ preference for feeling, nature, children, and ignorance.
Lineham, Thomas M. “Style and Individuality in E. E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room.” Style 13 (Winter, 1979): 45-59. Shows that, despite posturing, Cummings in The Enormous Room uses a versatile style to attack dangerous gentility, conservatism, and complacency and thus to inspire readers to assert their own world-transforming individuality.