Alvah Bessie Louise Maunsell Field - Essay

Louise Maunsell Field

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With sincerity and deep sympathy Alvah Bessie has told the story of a man to whom life for many years gave not bread but a stone in ["Bread and a Stone"]. A brutal stepfather, a home that was not home, then reform school, the penitentiary, odd jobs, the penitentiary again, were all Ed Sloan knew for more than thirty years. Then he met Norah Gilbert, a school teacher….

The story is told partly from his point of view and partly from Norah's, both in the main narrative and in the many flashbacks which intersperse it…. As far as Ed is concerned the novel is consistent, firmly handled, over-repetitious, perhaps, but interesting, a vivid, understanding portrayal….

Norah, on the other hand, rarely comes alive. Her hunger for companionship is easy to understand, but the gulf the author has presented as existing between her and Ed is too wide for crossing….

It is the intense, even passionate sympathy with which Mr. Bessie has drawn Ed, obviously intended as a symbol of the oppressed and unjustly treated everywhere, which gives the novel the power and value it certainly possesses.

Louise Maunsell Field, "The Oppressed," in The New York Times (© 1941 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 16, 1941, p. 7.