Can someone please help me summarize the main ideas of Chapters 1-3 of A Garden of Earthly Delights?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A summary of these first two sections can be done quite simply and directly. The first section is about the character named Carleton Walpole and the second section follows his daughter, Clara Walpole.

The first section is aptly titled “Carleton” and focuses on this particular character and begins the discussion on his daughter, Clara. Carleton Walpole is a migrant worker who is bitter about his plight. Having to take his large family from state to state following the flow of harvesting crops, Carleton continues to struggle with his anger. Why rage? Because Carleton, as is true of the plight of so many migrants, is not treated with dignity and respect. His struggle against anger succeeds originally through the “creation” of his daughter, Clara. Although Carleton has five children, it is Clara who is his very favorite of the bunch. Through this section of the novel, Clara learns to see beyond the migrant worker life with its misery and hardship and eventually runs away with a stranger to the family whose optimism is enticing. Clara, of course, is looking for a better life than the one Carleton offered her.

The next section, called “Lowry,” continues with the story of Clara Walpole. Lowry, of course, is the name of the stranger to the family who Clara runs off with. Lowry is a drifter, always mysterious. During this adventure, Lowry settles Clara in a small town in the South. Considering that Lowry drifts from place to place, it isn’t long before Lowry leaves Clara (mostly due to his underground crime and activity), leaving the area completely. Unfortunately for Clara, she is in love with Lowry, obsessed with Lowry, and now pregnant with Lowry’s child. Determined to make it, Clara has determination that interests Curt Revere who is a rich (already married) owner of many acres of land. Clara deftly becomes Curt’s mistress, unbeknownst to his ailing wife. Clara convinces Curt that he is the father of her child and accepts the rich life in the South. After Curt’s sick wife finally dies, Clara becomes Curt’s legitimate wife.

In conclusion, a reader should realize that the title of this book comes directly from the creation story (and especially the creation of Eve). The original painting of the same title depicts Eve’s original creation by God, the disobedience of her children, and the eventual damnation that resulted. Oates tries to copy that order in his own three sections of the book (two of which are summarized above).

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