Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Lester farm

Lester farm. Georgia home of Jeeter Lester’s family, near the town of Fuller. A three-room ramshackle house with a sagging porch and leaky roof stands in a grassless yard with a few chinaberry trees here and there. The surrounding cotton fields have not been cultivated for several years and are overgrown. Some seventy-five years before, it had been a promising tobacco farm owned by Jeeter’s grandfather. Running through the property is a tobacco road nearly fifteen miles long, once used to roll tobacco casks to the steamboats on the distant Savannah River.

Jeeter’s inability to produce a reasonable crop from the sandy, depleted soil has left him so heavily in debt that he has turned to sharecropping on what was once his family’s plantation. The soil resists Jeeter’s increasingly weak, though well-intentioned, efforts to grow a sustainable crop. Its infertility mirrors the impotence that gradually overtakes Jeeter and reduces him to little more than a shadow of a man. By the end of the novel, there remains even less of the farm after a fire destroys the old house, leaving only a “tall brick chimney . . . blackened and tomb-like.”

The utter, hopeless poverty so graphically depicted by the Lesters’ plight is representative of the rural squalor and degradation faced by many Americans living at the lowest levels of economic and moral debasement.


*Augusta. Georgia...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Tobacco Road Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Arnold, Edwin T., ed. Erskine Caldwell Reconsidered. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. A series of essays about this generally underappreciated novelist dealing with both biographical and literary topics.

Cook, Sylvia Jenkins. Erskine Caldwell and the Fiction of Poverty: The Flesh and the Spirit. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991. This study focuses on the physical and spiritual effects of poverty on Caldwell’s characters. For all of their preoccupation with material reality, they aspire also to a higher purpose in life.

Devlin, James E. Erskine Caldwell. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An analysis of the novel’s themes and techniques. Identifies Caldwell as a naturalist and the Lesters as part of a subculture. Also tries to account for the novel’s seemingly contradictory combination of humor and serious social commentary.

Klevar, Harvey L. Erskine Caldwell: A Biography. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993. Covers the writing of the novel, Caldwell’s relationship with his publishers, and the influence of his father’s study of the white Southern poor for Eugenics magazine.

MacDonald, Scott, ed. Critical Essays on Erskine Caldwell. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Includes introductions that Caldwell wrote for several of his novels, including Tobacco Road, as well as contemporary reviews and scholarly essays.