When it was published, The Folks was hailed as, if not the great American novel, at least the best novel about the Midwest that had ever been written. Unlike contemporaries such as Sinclair Lewis, who in Main Street (1920) and later novels pictured midwestern small towns as stifling, their inhabitants as pretentious and hypocritical, Ruth Suckow produced a book that critics called truly realistic. Although to outsiders Belmond may seem serene and even dull, its people have their share of inner conflicts and of uncertainty about the future.
In The Folks, the Ferguson home place represents the agrarian life and traditional values. At the beginning of the novel, Fred’s aging parents still live in the old family home, which is appropriately called the rock house. Just across the road is the new house, built by Fred’s sister and her husband, who works the farm. When they are young, all of Fred’s children like to go out to the home place. As adults, however, Margaret finds her place in the city and Dorothy finds her place in the suburbs. Even for Carl, living on the farm is never a real option. During his midlife crisis, Carl daydreams about becoming a farmer, but he lacks the will to make any drastic change in his life. Perhaps what Carl really wants is not a new vocation but a return to his youth.
By the time Bunny takes his new wife out to the home place, his grandparents are dead, the rock house is deserted, and the farm is being worked by renters. Bunny speaks about spending a summer in the rock house; however, Charlotte feels a revulsion toward any land that is privately owned. Her aim is to move to Russia and work in an agricultural commune.
In The Folks, Americans are shown to be losing a system of values, along with their ties to the land. Annie may be correct in blaming Fred’s frugality on his Scottish ancestry, but his sense of obligation to his church and to the less fortunate in his...
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