(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a beautiful September morning, Fred Ferguson gets up early and strolls around his yard. Although he is proud of his comfortable home and his position in the small town of Belmond, Iowa, where he lives, Fred feels burdened by his responsibilities. So many people seem to depend on Fred: his family, his coworkers at the bank, his fellow Presbyterians, in fact, the whole community. When Fred’s wife, Annie, gets up, she thinks briefly about her dead parents and the inevitability of change. Then she begins her day’s work. At breakfast, their daughter Margaret is generally nasty, causing Annie to wonder why this middle child is so different. As usual, Fred is obtuse; as usual, Annie tries to please him. After everyone leaves, she broods about how tired she is of pretending and how much she resents having to placate Fred’s hypercritical mother and sister.

Life goes on. Margaret disobeys her mother and has to be punished. The Fergusons go out to dinner. The Monday Club meets with Annie, and for the first time the frugal Fred lets his wife hire someone to help her. That night, Annie amazes Fred by telling him of her feelings about the family. Although he assures her of his love, he still does not understand.

The children are growing up. Still playing his part as the good son, Carl is a star football player and a student leader of his high school. He is admired by everyone, especially his little brother, Bunny, and his girlfriend, Lillian White. At the Presbyterian college he attends, Carl is fascinated by livelier girls, but after graduation he marries Lillian. They have two sons. Carl becomes a school principal, then a superintendent. Bored by his work and frustrated by Lillian’s sexual passiveness, Carl seeks the company of more vivacious women. The crisis comes when he tells Lillian that they are moving to Philadelphia, where one of his women friends finds him a new position. Upset about her pregnancy and certain that her husband does not love her, Lillian tries to kill herself, but Carl stops her in the nick of time. Turning down the Philadelphia offer, Carl becomes superintendent of schools in a town near Belmond. Although Lillian loses her baby, she is now secure in their marriage. Carl, however, loses his faith in himself. He now knows that he is nothing special after...

(The entire section is 939 words.)