Anne Tyler Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does place function in Anne Tyler’s fiction?

Which of Tyler’s characters reject their families and their communities? What are the results?

Which of Tyler’s characters or family units represent conformity?

How does Tyler use her eccentrics to create humor?

How do Tyler’s energetic women alter the lives of their families and especially of the men in their lives?

Tyler acknowledges her own need for privacy. Which of her characters are motivated by that same need?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Anne Tyler has published more than a dozen novels, including Searching for Caleb (1976), Earthly Possessions (1977), Morgan’s Passing (1980), Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), The Accidental Tourist (1985), Breathing Lessons (1988), Saint Maybe (1991), Ladder of Years (1995), and A Patchwork Planet (1998). The Accidental Tourist was adapted for the screen in 1988, and Breathing Lessons was adapted for television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1994. Tyler has published many nonfiction articles and essays about writing and writers. Her more than 260 book reviews have appeared in national periodicals. She has also written a children’s book, Tumble Tower (1993), illustrated by her daughter Mitra Modarressi.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

At Duke University, Anne Tyler won the Anne Flexner Award for creative writing. In 1966, she won the Mademoiselle magazine award for showing promise as a writer. In 1969 and 1972, she won O. Henry Awards for the short stories “Common Courtesies” and “With All Flags Flying.” In 1977, she received a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for her novel Earthly Possessions. In 1980, Morgan’s Passing won her the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. In 1982, Tyler was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which won a PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. In 1985, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Accidental Tourist, and in 1988, the film version won four Academy Award nominations. That same year Tyler was a National Book Award finalist for Breathing Lessons, the novel for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1989. Breathing Lessons, Saint Maybe, and Ladder of Years were Book-of-the-Month Club selections.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Anne Tyler has published many short stories, including several in such periodicals as Harper’s, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, Seventeen, and the Southern Review. Her stories have not yet been published in any collected form, but two stories appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories volumes for 1969 and 1972 and others have been included in such anthologies as The Best American Short Stories (1977), Stories of the Modern South (1978, 1981), New Women and New Fiction (1986), and Louder than Words (1989) as well as in several anthologies of American literature published by major publishing houses for use in college and university courses. Tyler has also written several autobiographical and personal essays, one for The Washington Post in 1976 and another for The Writer on Her Work (1980), edited by Janet Sternburg. Her reviews of current fiction, criticism, and biography have appeared in many major newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, and The Washington Post.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Despite praise for the truth of her characterizations and her eye for detail, Anne Tyler did not receive much national recognition for her fiction until the publication of her sixth novel, Searching for Caleb, in 1976. Before that time, the largest segment of her audience was in the South, although her short stories appeared in prestigious national magazines throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. All of her novels except A Slipping-Down Life have been published abroad. In addition to English editions, translations into Danish, French, German, Italian, and Swedish have appeared. Still, the American academic and critical communities were slow to appreciate Tyler’s work. Her strong supporters include John Updike, who favorably reviewed her novels for The New Yorker, beginning with Searching for Caleb, and Reynolds Price, Tyler’s professor at Duke University, who also reviewed her work.

In 1976, Tyler began to receive increasing recognition. In 1977, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters cited her as a novelist of excellence and promise. Earthly Possessions and Morgan’s Passing also received largely favorable national reviews. While a few critics, including Updike, expressed some disappointment in Morgan’s Passing, the Writers Workshop of the University of Rochester awarded it the 1980 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman.

With the publication of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, her first novel to make the best-seller lists, Tyler at last acquired full national stature. Benjamin DeMott’s front-page notice in The New York Times Book Review pointed to the novel’s wit and the depth of Tyler’s psychological insight and characterizations. DeMott saw the book as clear evidence of Tyler’s having joined the ranks of major novelists. Updike reiterated this praise, citing Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as a work of considerable power. As a result of this increasing recognition and praise, scholarly studies of Tyler’s work, including her early novels, began to appear. Tyler’s reputation as a major contemporary American novelist was fixed with the publication of The Accidental Tourist, which won the 1985/1986 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. The successful film version of the novel, released in 1988, increased Tyler’s popularity with the reading public. Breathing Lessons was nominated for the National Book Award and won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bail, Paul. Anne Tyler: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Part of a series of reference books about popular contemporary writers, this book contains a biography, literary influences on Anne Tyler, and individual chapters that discuss twelve of Tyler’s novels. General analysis includes how her novels fit into southern regional literature, women’s literature, and popular culture, as well as critiques from feminist and multicultural points of view. Bail also discusses plot, characters, themes, literary devices, historical settings, and narrative points of view as they apply to individual novels. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography.

Croft, Robert W. Anne Tyler: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Part of a series focusing on American authors, this book is divided into two parts: a biography which includes four chapters, each followed by endnotes. It concludes with an extensive bibliography, divided into primary and secondary sources, with a list of Anne Tyler’s papers at Duke University. “A Setting Apart,” concerns her childhood in a commune, teen years in Raleigh, college at Duke, and early writing. “The Only Way Out,” refers to her feelings of isolation during her early marriage and motherhood and how writing her first novels and short stories kept her in touch with the real world. “Rich with Possibilities” refers to her life in Baltimore, the setting of most of her stories, her book reviews, and discussion of her middle-period novels. “A Border Crossing” deals with Tyler’s fame and recurring themes in her novels.

Evans, Elizabeth. Anne Tyler. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains biography and an overview of Tyler’s works. Includes a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Jansen, Henry. Laughter Among the Ruins: Postmodern Comic Approaches to Suffering. New York: P. Lang, 2001....

(The entire section is 836 words.)