(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Inhabitants, the first of Morris’s volumes to combine photographs and prose, grew out of his preoccupation with the past. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Morris began writing fiction using simple, compact visual cues to create “still” word pictures. After composing a number of such pictures, he concluded that he might actually photograph what he was describing in order more effectively to capture concrete detail and visible reality. What he was after was the look and feel of a specific time and place. To produce the look, he selected telling photographs from the many he had taken on his travels across the United States. For the feel, he used words. What resulted when Morris imaginatively synthesized his photographs and prose was the most experimental and innovative of Morris’s four “photo-texts.”

Technically, The Inhabitants, through its imaginative fusion of various points of view, anticipates many of the narrative devices Morris later employed in his multivoiced fictions of the 1950’s and 1960’s. As the critic Alan Trachtenberg points out in his 1962 essay, “The Craft of Vision,” the book has a triangular structure that blends three separate strands: two narrative voices and the photographs. Each two-page spread has a monologue that announces the theme or argument of the book and occasionally meditates on the question of what an inhabitant is; a second voice—sometimes third person, sometimes first person,...

(The entire section is 534 words.)