(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Field of Vision, like The Huge Season and The Inhabitants, reflects Morris’s struggle with the past. In this book, however, he is less concerned with how one escapes the past than he is with how one confronts and conceptualizes it. One of the most sophisticated and intricate of Morris’s novels, The Field of Vision employs multiple perspectives to capture, group, and explore scattered fragments of the lives of five Americans.

What Morris reveals through the primary voices in the novel is largely a vision of failure. Virtually all the main characters are unable or unwilling to make constructive use of the past in order to cope effectively with everyday events. McKee, for example, prides himself in his common sense and adopts a conservative response to life; however, because he is unable to see beyond the superficial, he responds to the disconcerting present by retreating into the conventionality of middle-class values. Lois, McKee’s wife, is conventional as well, marrying McKee because marriage provided an accepted pattern of behavior that protected her from her subverted darker desires. The McKees share material success—a big house and money—but no love. Both have rejected sex, and Lois remains “stiffly laced into her corset of character.”

Scanlon, Lois’s father, sees virtually nothing in the present. During the bullfight, he spends most of his time reminiscing about a wagon train that...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

The Field of Vision Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Vacationing in Mexico in the 1950’s, Walter McKee runs into his best friend, Gordon Boyd, whom he had not seen for fifteen years. Without any introduction, Boyd says, “How’s the little woman?” McKee replies that he and his wife could not be happier, which irritates Boyd, who, instead of settling down like his friend McKee, spent his life on the road, wandering wherever fate took him. McKee made money and became a success, although years earlier he stood on his fiancé’s front porch while Boyd gave Lois her first kiss.

At a bullfight to which they all go, Lois is busy supervising her elderly father and her young grandson. Both wear coonskin caps reminiscent of Davy Crockett and of the old man’s solitary life on the midwestern plains. Mrs. McKee is alarmed when she hears that her husband met Boyd—for she wishes to conceal from the world that Boyd is the only man who ever excited her. Afraid of the desire he aroused in her that day on the porch, she instead married the steady but boring McKee, who annoys her with his overbearing manner and his habit of chewing such things as burned matches, cigars, and even things he picks up in the street. Above all, she dislikes the fact that her husband worships Boyd. Running into Boyd when they are on vacation strikes her as bad luck.

Boyd suggests to McKee that they all go to a bullfight together, explaining that he will also bring his psychiatrist, Dr. Lehmann, who is treating him for depression. None of Boyd’s youthful dreams is fulfilled. Instead of becoming a successful playwright, he ends up eking out an existence in New York. His namesake and McKee’s son, Gordon, is dissuaded from pursuing a career in the theater when he sees Gordon’s dingy apartment and lonely life.


(The entire section is 722 words.)

The Field of Vision Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Hicks, Granville. Introduction to Wright Morris: A Reader, by Wright Morris. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Discusses recurrent themes in Morris’ work, such as setting and its effect on identity. Also examines his place in American literary history. Includes an overview of the reasons for Morris’ popular and critical neglect.

Knoll, Robert, ed. Conversations with Wright Morris: Critical Views and Responses. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. Covers a wide range of critical evaluation, including New Criticism and structuralism. Examines the author’s postmodern use of point-of-view and investigates the absence of a traditional narrative structure.

Updike, John. “Wright on Writing.” The New Yorker, April 14, 1975, 124-127. Examines the characters and regions that are most prevalent in Morris’ novels. The landscape of the Midwest is discussed in terms of its effect on character development.

Wilson, J. C. “Wright Morris and the Search for the ‘Still Point.’ ” Prairie Schooner (Summer, 1975): 154-163. Examines the motif of the quest for identity in Morris’ fiction and the pressure of past events on characters’ present-day lives.

Yardley, Jonathan. “The Achievement of Wright Morris.” Book World—The Washington Post, February 3, 1985, 3, 13. Examines the arc of Morris’ literary career. Includes a discussion of his work in various genres, covering photography, journalism, and autobiography.