Critical Context (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was Dillard’s first full-length work. It was enthusiastically received by reviewers and won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, although a few dissenting voices complained about Dillard’s self-centeredness. Many compared her to Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville, and her search for the illuminated moment, what German Romantic writers called the Augenblick, aligns her with English Romantics such as William Wordsworth and William Blake. A comparison with Blake is particularly instructive, since Dillard, like Blake, writes about the state of innocence; she too is horrified at the parasitic aspects of nature, which parallels Blake’s disgust with the state of being he labeled “Generation.” Dillard’s visionary breakthroughs resemble Blake’s higher world of Eden. Concern with the Augenblick also aligns Dillard with twentieth century writers such as James Joyce and Marcel Proust.
Dillard’s next book was Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (1974), a collection of religious poems which record mystical experiences similar to those in her first book. She writes of seeing trees on fire, for example, and of God picking her up and swinging her like a bell (the bell metaphor is used twice in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). Holy the Firm (1977), a visionary prose narrative, illustrates by way of parable Creation, Fall, and Redemption. It too makes extensive use of the image of fire, and reveals what is...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
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