Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Glendon Swarthout won several awards, including the National Society of Arts and Letters Gold Medal. Bless the Beasts and Children is generally considered to be his best work. A prolific novelist, short-story writer, and dramatist, Swarthout also had several of his novels, including Bless the Beasts and Children, made into films. Perhaps the best known of these is the 1976 film The Shootist (starring John Wayne).

Most of Swarthout’s fiction can be said to be social commentary on what he identified to be the ills of American society. In his first novel, Willow Run (1943), he tackled the subject of the manufacture of bombers; in Loveland (1968), a young man struggles against depression. They Came to Cordura (1958) is about bravery and cowardice and how people behave under great stress. Where the Boys Are (1960) is a comic novel set in Fort Lauderdale at the time when thousands of teenagers descend into Florida during spring break.

Criticism on the body of Swarthout’s work is about equally divided. Some critics argue that the linearity of his plots and his frequent appeals to sentiment, sometimes approaching the maudlin, greatly mar his novels. Others, however, have found Swarthout’s appeal to absolute values and past ideals to be a welcome relief from much modern fiction.