Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Whitemud. Canadian town, based on the real town of Eastend, in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada, where Stegner lived for about five years when he was a boy. The real town’s name derives from its location near the eastern end of the Cypress Hills, a prominent geographical feature that lies parallel to the U.S.-Canada boundary. In the fictional Whitemud and at a nearby wheat-farming homestead used only during the growing season, the Mason family has its only long-lasting home and experience of community.

The family’s Whitemud home is a two-story, eight-room house built by Bruce’s father, Bo Mason, in an attempt to salvage his marriage to Elsa, whom he had earlier deserted in Washington State. The theme of the importance of having a lasting, secure and affectionate home is the emotional core of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and the five years the Masons spend in Whitemud are the center of the novel’s exploration of this theme. Bo chooses the town simply as the latest target of his ambition to get rich quick. He regards it as a dirty little “dung-heeled sagebrush town,” but Elsa views it as a place to settle down and live respectably, if modestly. For Bruce and his older brother, Chet, Whitemud is the site of typical childhood adventures, but for Bruce, especially, it represents society and civilization, a warm place in which his precocious intelligence is molded both by culture and the natural world.

In the novel’s most lyrical episode, Bruce and his parents spend a day making an automobile trip from their homestead to the...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Some critics object to the shifting point of view in The Big Rock Candy Mountain. The story is told from the perspectives of the...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Because of its topical subject matter and superior prose style, Stegner's fiction usually provokes stimulating discussions. In general, his...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Big Rock Candy Mountain focuses on the ending of the western frontier. Through the character of Bo Mason, the novel shows what...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The great, wandering epic structure of The Big Rock Candy Mountain resembles that of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry...

(The entire section is 69 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Recapitulation, the sequel to Big Rock Candy Mountain, Bruce Mason returns to Salt Lake City and tries to sort out his...

(The entire section is 84 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Arthur, Anthony, ed. Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Includes two reviews of The Big Rock Candy Mountain written when it was first published and several critical essays that analyze themes, point of view, and autobiographical influences.

Lewis, Merrill, and Lorene Lewis. Wallace Stegner. Boise, Idaho: Boise State College, 1972. A brief overview of Stegner’s life and work.

Robinson, Forrest Glen, and Margaret G. Robinson. Wallace Stegner. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Includes biographical information and a discussion of Stegner’s fiction and nonfiction, including The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Stegner, Wallace, and Richard W. Etulain. Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983. Stegner discusses his life and his writing as well as his views on literature and history.

Willrich, Patricia Rowe. “A Perspective on Wallace Stegner.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 67 (Spring, 1991): 240-259. An overview of Stegner’s life and work. Discusses the autobiographical material in his writings and his role as a Western writer.