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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