Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The theme of Weeds is one that is common to naturalistic novels: Environment, to a large degree, determines people’s fate; it forms them and, in some instances, crushes them. Some characters, such as Jabez Moorhouse and Judith Pippinger, are able to understand the limitations imposed on them by environment; they are able to transcend for brief moments their crippling circumstances. Even these “conscious” characters, however, ultimately remain as trapped as their unseeing brethren.

Kelley writes in the same vein as Theodore Dreiser, Hamlin Garland, and William Dean Howells. She accurately and painstakingly re-creates the milieu of the poor white Southerners, breathing life into her characters, major and minor, male and female, landowners and tenant farmers. For this reason, Weeds can also be characterized as a regional novel, one that renders a way of life that is unknown to most. Her naturalistic approach is anchored to the land, the weather, the planting, the harvesting, the slop jars, the cornmeal cakes, the hog’s belly, the thirty-mile trips to the nearest town, the revival meetings, the funerals, and the dances. Without tedium, yet without gloss, she realizes the life and the people of the region, always individualizing and differentiating, without cataloging and generalizing.

By emphasizing the effect of the social environment on the individual, Kelley is primarily a sociological novelist, but she is also a...

(The entire section is 591 words.)