The Keepers of the House Essay - Critical Essays

Shirley Ann Grau


Although most critics, reviewers, and scholars who have offered comments on The Keepers of the House speak of the many excellent qualities of the novel, some accuse Shirley Ann Grau of being so far outside her work that it has no moral center; others accuse her of adhering too strictly to Southern literary idioms, so that the novel emerges as a grand cliché. Both negative observations seem more self-serving than true. The first observation suggests that author and character are one and the same and that Abigail’s condition is to be equated with the author’s psyche. Only the critically naïve would suggest such an identification. At the end of the novel, Abigail is in a state of almost total collapse. She has acted in a way that she believes her grandfather would act; she has used her wit and intelligence; she has risked bodily harm to protect her house because she now is its only keeper. When he died, Howland owned the major part of the town, and now Abigail does. She determines that she will destroy the house—the city—she will deprive the townspeople of work, and she will exert a kind of godlike power to bring punishment to the people of the earth. As Ecclesiastes states (12:3-5), “the keepers of the house shall tremble and the strong men shall bow themselves and the grinders cease. . . .”

This novel is no Southern “romance,” more sentimental than ironic. No author faces a void more severe than the stark vision that Grau imparts in this novel, in which necessity drives humans to the inevitable ends that their beliefs and actions demand. Abigail is as steady in her condemnation of Margaret’s children as she is in that of her husband, and she is as ruthless toward Robert as she is toward the townspeople. She will tear down all of their houses, although she knows there will be nothing left for her to salvage, but she no longer cares. She has, she says, “her own sob-racked echoing world,” and she is locked into it.

It no longer seems to matter where the fault lies. What is left is to reject the mentality that invented and sustains master/slave relationships, as Abigail rightly does.