Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Thornbrough. Home of the Barnes family near Dukla, Pennsylvania. The novel’s main character, Solon Barnes, is a native of Maine, where his father farmed and had a modest business in town until he moved the family to Pennsylvania to aid his widowed sister-in-law. His family soon occupies Thornbrough, a decrepit pre-Civil War home along a country byway. Restoration of the house to its former elegance prompts reflection upon the spiritual legitimacy of material comfort, prosperity, and wealth. Because Quaker belief endorses simplicity, not merely in dress but also in living arrangements, the restoration of Thornbrough is acceptable to the family only because they can view it as an act of stewardship rather than one of material indulgence.

Theodore Dreiser offers descriptions of the house and its surroundings, but they are brief and often schematic. Although Solon’s father enjoys the small creek that runs through his land, he never troubles to learn where the stream ends. Later, Solon, now married to the daughter of his wealthy employer, decides to move his family from their home in town to Thornbrough, not because of its beauty, but because the children would be better protected from undesirable influences of the more worldly families in the town by living among the green fields and free spaces of the countryside. However, this countryside is threatened by development. Though located in a pastoral region, Dukla is well on its way to becoming a suburb of Philadelphia. Solon himself is able to commute to work from the Dukla station to the city in twenty-five minutes.

The transformation of countryside into suburb and the transition from the age of the horse and buggy to that of the automobile are topics of considerable...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Gerber, Philip L. Theodore Dreiser Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. Provides a good introduction to the life and writing of Dreiser. In addition, the book contains a cogent chapter on The Bulwark.

Hussman, Lawrence E., Jr. Dreiser and His Fiction: A Twentieth-Century Quest. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983. Hussman’s thesis is that Dreiser’s beliefs changed toward the end of his life and that his fiction reflects this change. Thus, The Bulwark becomes a final sign that Dreiser was more interested in spiritual matters.

Lehan, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: His World and His Novels. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. Offers thoughtful insights into Dreiser’s writing and thinking. Lehan notices a gradual shift in Dreiser’s late fiction toward communism and nature, away from technology and capitalism.

Lingeman, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey, 1908-1945. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1990. The second volume of a biography on Dreiser. Besides recounting the events in Dreiser’s life, Lingeman analyzes Dreiser’s fiction.

Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976. Pizer is a recognized authority on Dreiser and naturalism. He offers both a solid reading of The Bulwark and important background information on the novel.