Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Is Ring Lardner optimistic or pessimistic about humanity?
How does Lardner use dialogue to develop his characters?
What historical factors help to explain Lardner’s popularity in America of the 1920’s?
In “Haircut,” who is at fault for Jim Kendall’s death?
Among literary scholars, much has been made of the Hemingway hero. Is there such a thing as a “Lardner hero”?
Contrast Lardner’s view of love in “Some Like Them Cold” and “Golden Honeymoon.”
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Ring Lardner is known chiefly as a short-story writer, but in his own time was better known as a sportswriter, columnist, and humorist. He also wrote two novel-length works, You Know Me Al (1915) and The Big Town (1921), and he tried his hand at writing musical comedies, June Moon (1929; in collaboration with George S. Kaufman) being his only successful one. Most of Lardner’s nonfictional prose remains uncollected, although a few works have appeared in book form, including an early piece about the return of the Chicago White Sox from a worldwide tour, a book of verse about successful business and professional men (Regular Fellows I Have Met, 1919), three humorous essays, “The Young Immigrunts,” “Symptoms of Being Thirty-five,” and “Say It with Oil,” and a burlesque autobiography, The Story of a Wonder Man (1927).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Ring Lardner added significantly to a tradition dating back at least as far as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Using first-person monologue (usually humorous, always steeped in colloquialisms, occasionally in the form of correspondence), Lardner allowed his characters to reveal themselves, warts and all. As such, the superficiality and insincerity of his narrators is starkly contrasted with the often harsh truths they unintentionally reveal. This allowed Lardner to illustrate some of the less edifying aspects of American society and human nature in general. He also captured the spoken language (and slang) of ordinary people, rendering it as an art form unto itself. Thus, in addition to their entertainment value, Lardner’s stories provide a telling picture of American manners and morals during the first third or so of the twentieth century. Finally, Lardner was a pioneer in the fruitful marriage between the game of baseball and American letters, laying the foundation for later works by prominent authors such as Mark Harris (Bang the Drum Slowly, 1956), W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe, 1982, filmed as Field of Dreams, 1989), Bernard Malamud (The Natural, 1952), and Philip Roth (The Great American Novel, 1973).
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Blythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet. “Lardner’s ‘Haircut.’” The Explicator 55 (Summer, 1997): 219-221. Poses the question of why Whitey would tell his tale of homicide to a stranger; argues that Whitey feels guilty because he has been involved and thus, like the Ancient Mariner, stops strangers to tell his tale.
Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman. Ring Lardner: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976. This highly accessible and useful summary of Lardner’s work provides a good starting point for getting a sense of Lardner’s overall achievements, range, and productivity.
Cowlishaw, Brian T. “The Reader’s Role in Ring Lardner’s Rhetoric.” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 207-216. Argues that readers of Lardner’s stories perceive a set of corrective lessons conveyed satirically by an implied author. Readers who accept the role of implied reader and thus align themselves with the implied author as perceptive and intelligent people accept these lessons and thus fulfill the basic purpose of satire, which is social correction.
Elder, Donald. Ring Lardner. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956. This early biography is helpful because it includes much firsthand testimony from those who knew Lardner throughout his career, including the very...
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