Form and Content
Claire Lee Purdy’s He Heard America Sing: The Story of Stephen Foster is a deliberately fictionalized, chronological account of essential biographical facts about Foster embedded in family anecdotes and examples of local color. The chronology is interrupted three times. In chapter 2, Mrs. Foster reminisces about her happy childhood among the tobacco plantations of Delaware and Maryland. In chapter 6, Mr. Foster recalls his adventurous years as a young man employed with a trading company out of Pittsburgh, down the Mississippi River to the Delta, along the inland waterways of the Atlantic seaboard, and overland by the Natchez Trace. In chapter 8, an uncle recalls his days as a pioneer along the Ohio River. These reminiscences link events in the Foster family with the United States’ historical, social, and economic roots.
Purdy dramatizes the events of Foster’s childhood in order to illustrate his sensitive, artistic nature. Passages from his mother’s diary and his own childhood letters illustrate his early passion for music and his dislike of school. The book describes his place as youngest in a family of seven children, his need for home, his reluctance to go to school, his early fascination with music, and the importance of his early contacts with African-American music. Because Foster ended up as an alcoholic, dying a pauper in Bellevue Hospital, Purdy supplies instances of his refusals to face fears, to seek solutions to problems, and...
(The entire section is 511 words.)