Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Set in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the winter of 1907, The Road to Wellville explores the phenomenon of the rise of breakfast cereals and how the national rage for them made and lost fortunes.
John Harvey Kellogg, a scientist and showman who is both an early diet devotee and the inventor of cornflakes, runs a spa where the cream of American society and business comes to regain their health and lose weight. In the winter of 1907, his clients include Will Lightbody, an alcoholic who has been prescribed alcoholic tonics, and his wife, a firm adherent of the spa’s philosophy, who surreptitiously regularly slips an opium-based cure into his evening coffee. Over the course of the book, Will must save his marriage and fight his addiction, despite the hindrance of well-wishers.
At the same time, wealth seekers—including Charlie Ossining and his partner Goodloe H. Bender, who plan to sell the same product as Kellogg, but with a different name, “Per-Fo” (perfect food)—make their way to Battle Creek to attempt to con their way into the boom of the breakfast business. Despite the fact that Charlie is more victim than con artist, he is arrested, escapes, and eventually becomes the president of the “Per-To” (perfect tonic) Company four years later.
Kellogg (the child of a broom maker who accordingly believes that roughage “sweeps out” the system) does not just touch on diet but preaches on child rearing as well, using...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Road to Wellville satirizes the American obsession with health and fitness through a lampoon of the physical culture movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1907, John Harvey Kellogg, “inventor of the corn flake and peanut butter, not to mention caramel-coffee, Bromose, Nuttolene, and some seventy-five other gastrically-correct foods,” plays health guru to an international clientele affluent enough to lodge at his sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan. While there, his patients forswear meat for vegetables and whole grains, submit themselves to a daily regimen of enemas and exercise, and attend inspirational meetings that cast a religious aura over their treatments and inculcate the proper attitude for living a healthier and longer life.
Kellogg’s operation attracts not only the rich and famous but also average Americans such as Will and Eleanor Lightbody. Eleanor is a true believer of the Kellogg method, a self-described “Battle Freak.” Her visits to the sanatorium have shaped her identity as one of its most vigorous exponents. Will, who has been driven to dyspepsia by the stress of life, endures a stay at Battle Creek out of love for his well-meaning wife. Through his incredulous eyes, the reader witnesses the lunacy of Kellogg’s philosophy and the sanatorium’s ritualized lifestyle.
Like any profitable business, Kellogg’s operation inspires other entrepreneurs to try and duplicate its success....
(The entire section is 455 words.)