Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Vein of Iron stresses one of Glasgow’s dominant themes: that only the strong can make it through the hardships of life. As in many other Glasgow novels, including Barren Ground, the most obvious of these hardships is the lack of money. Ada Fincastle, the protagonist of Vein of Iron, has been aware of her family’s precarious financial situation from her earliest years.
Her father, however, unlike Dorinda’s father, is an educated man; indeed, his intellectual gifts have been his downfall. A Presbyterian minister, he had published a brilliant but unconventional book; as a result, he lost his church and his profession, and he had to move back to his Appalachian home, where he lives with his mother, attempting to support the household on what he can make as a schoolmaster.
Ada’s childhood is summed up by her disappointment when her father brings her a cheap doll for Christmas instead of the one with real hair on which she had set her heart. Her character is summed up by the comment made at that time—that the child has a single heart. Although that singleness of affection means that Ada will never be happy with the wrong doll, in later life it enables her to cling to her love for Ralph McBride until together they find happiness.
The love story of Ada Fincastle and Ralph McBride begins in their childhood, when they are schoolfellows. By the time Ada is twenty, she knows that she is in love with Ralph,...
(The entire section is 671 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Ellen Glasgow divides Vein of Iron into five parts: “Toward Life,” “The Single Heart,” “Life’s Interlude,” “God’s Mountain,” and “The Dying Age.” In the first three parts, Ada Fincastle moves toward union with Ralph McBride. That union is achieved in part 3, though the couple does not marry until Ralph returns from World War I early in part 5. Meanwhile, the family leaves the Manse, their ancestral home in the mountain village of Ironside. She and Ralph begin their married life in metropolitan Queenborough. In part 5, they struggle to return to their beloved home. This return is achieved in the last chapter.
Part 1, “Toward Life,” tells, through multiple centers of consciousness, the story of one December day when Ada is ten. The novel begins with Ada’s experiences of that day when she expected her father to bring her a doll with real hair. She has saved her money, and she is acutely aware that she will soon be too old to enjoy dolls. Unfortunately, her father is unable to bring her such a doll. Though she is extremely disappointed, she is able, thanks to the strength of the family which understands her and cares for her, to accept the substitute doll.
Other incidents in Ada’s life that day, as well as looks into the consciousnesses of her grandmother, aunt, father, and mother, reveal the qualities which sustain Ada through this disappointment and which sustain her and her family through the...
(The entire section is 1171 words.)