The Old Forest and Other Stories Essay - Critical Essays

Peter Taylor

The Old Forest and Other Stories

With the first three stories of this collection, Taylor presents an extremely vivid perspective on Southern privilege: “The Gift of the Prodigal” concerns a renegade son and his relationship to his proper and well-to-do father and siblings; “The Old Forest” describes a young man of prominent social status, engaged to be married to someone of like standing, and the ill-fated rendezvous he has with a woman of lower social estate; and “The Promise of Rain” is a father’s study of his youngest son as he grows up in an upper-middle-class world which has changed from that in which he raised his older children. While not all the stories in this collection concern prominent and wealthy Southern families, they do, for the most part, explore changing family traditions and values, and relationships between Southern whites and the black people who are made to serve them.

Taylor writes with great fluidity and subtlety, to the extent that one cannot always tell if his own views are reflected in the values his characters hold. He endeavors to present many sides to the Southern way of life, and in each story the same issues--with changing nuances--are discussed, argued, and fought over by its characters.

Finally, however, a perspective does emerge. Taylor’s world is predominantly one of the romance of social caste and benevolent paternalism, which--while struggling against modernizing forces that erode its core--is at the same time dissatisfied with the tensions of maintaining separations of class and is drawn towards change and even self-destruction. The stories acknowledge the seductive qualities of money and status and yet reveal disease with the stifling control they generate.