E. Annie Proulx Long Fiction Analysis
Thematically most of E. Annie Proulx’s writing is concerned with the gradual disappearance of the rural America that she cherishes, as urban sprawl overtakes the farmlands and forests that once constituted a major part of the United States. Proulx has always avoided cities, preferring to live in rural areas. As city dwellers have pushed farther and farther into rural America, family farms have virtually disappeared, as Proulx shows in Postcards.
Proulx is also concerned with the necessity for people to have roots, and in her novels she shows how, in an expanding society, it becomes difficult to maintain such roots. In The Shipping News, the protagonist, Quoyle, born in Brooklyn, is a deeply disturbed person who has cast about in New York State for most of his thirty-odd years, unhappy with the person he is. Only when he makes a break from his unsatisfactory life following the death of his oversexed, unfaithful wife in an automobile wreck does he develop a self-image he can live with. He leaves his sorrow at his wife’s death behind and moves with his two daughters to Newfoundland, to a dilapidated property that his family has owned for years. In returning to his ancestral roots, he begins to build a new life for himself, one based on self-acceptance.
Proulx usually employs third-person omniscient narrators in her writing. She uses her narrators to provide “flash-forwards,” which, unlike flashbacks, inform readers of the fates of characters outside the immediate time frame of the narrative. By using this device, Proulx is able to add to the intensity of occurrences in her stories by giving readers clues to impending events.
Sentimentality seldom intrudes on Proulx’s writing. An admirer of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness’s novel Sjálfstætt fólk (1934-1935; Independent People, 1946), she, like Laxness, writes about harsh, unforgiving landscapes populated by people strong enough to survive them. She understands well the dialects of her characters, using them authentically to make her characters credible. Doing her research for The Shipping News, she spent a great deal of time in Newfoundland listening to how Newfoundlanders speak and doggedly studying the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
Proulx does not mourn for a lost agrarian past; rather, she creates situations with which her characters must cope on a day-to-day basis. Her characters do not have easy lives. Those involved in farming or fishing live at the mercy of changing variables that are indifferent to their suffering. Much that she writes about is horrific, but she tempers the horror with humor, albeit often a black humor. She admits to avoiding scrupulously what she terms a “pastoral nostalgia.”
Loyal Blood has lived most of his early life on the family farm, improving it through backbreaking work. He has a clear vision of the farm’s potential. His roots are firmly entrenched in this farm, where he lives with his father and brother. The story Proulx relates in Postcards details events that occur in Loyal’s life between 1944 and 1988. Critics have pointed out that John Dos Passos chronicled the first three decades of the twentieth century in his trilogy U.S.A. (1937) and suggest that Proulx has taken up where...
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