The Big Rock Candy Mountain was Stegner’s first critical and popular success. The title derives from a popular song of the early twentieth century which describes “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” as a utopia where riches grow on bushes.
The book’s protagonist, Harry “Bo” Mason, is one of the many dreamers who came West in search of riches. He tries many different occupations but fails to strike it rich. His wife, Elsa, wants security, respectability, and peace of mind, but she is tied to Bo. They have two children. Chet, the elder, inherits his father’s temperament; Bruce inherits his mother’s temperament, and he is considered a sissy by other boys and by his father.
Bo’s best opportunity comes when the Volstead Act introduces Prohibition after World War I. He begins smuggling whiskey across the Canadian border in a car. For a time, he is making considerable money and lavishing it on his family. Then the same thing happens to him that happened repeatedly to freelance entrepreneurs during the growth of the West: A group of better-organized, better-capitalized men drives the independent operators out of business.
Stegner uses a sophisticated format. His story is told from the points of view of all four family members. In the early chapters, the viewpoints of Bo and Elsa are featured, while those of Chet and Bruce become more prominent as the boys grow older. The story covers a period from 1906 to 1942. During...
(The entire section is 459 words.)