Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Susan Allen Toth’s first book, Blooming, is a thematic autobiography of 211 pages, covering the time period of her grade-school years in Ames, Iowa, through her arrival at Smith College to begin her freshman year. Throughout her tracing of formative influences, apprehensions, and successes in her life, there are several important consistencies of attitudes and values that are evident throughout her book.

First of all, she expects good things from life but is apprehensive about how to get them, so she is eager for life experiences. Furthermore, her character is firmly rooted in the Protestant work ethic, which accounts for the industry and tenacity with which she deals with challenging or distasteful tasks; as she grows up she believes that work is an essential ingredient of adult life. Friends, specifically female friends, form a rich and sustaining network for her. Boyfriends, however, seem more like prizes to be won than friends in whom to confide. Boyfriends may be transient, but girlfriends are enduring. Given less prominence in her autobiography are her widowed mother and older sister.

As Toth records each experience in her life and infuses it with meaning and significance, she does so by relating it in some way to an anecdote involving her daughter, Jennifer, whose girlhood is more complex and less ambiguous than that of her mother. A common practice in the book, in fact, is for Toth to begin a chapter with a memory about her daughter, which then serves as a catalyst for important related recollections of her own childhood.

Blooming is topically organized, with each of its eleven chapters exploring a significant theme or period in Toth’s life. The first, titled “Nothing Happened,” gives the backdrop of Toth’s personal orientation as an outgrowth of the moral, religious, and ethnic composition of the town in which she was reared. In the 1950’s, the town of Ames was a small, racially homogeneous, conservative white society with very little crime, where tragedies, if they did occur, were only “freakish twists of...

(The entire section is 853 words.)