Conrad Richter Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Conrad Richter’s fiction has received very little critical attention in recent years. What qualities in his works can account for this neglect?

What do The Light in the Forest and A Country of Strangers say about racial relations in the United States?

How do the ideas explored in The Mountain on the Desert help in understanding Richter’s fiction?

What is Richter’s fiction saying about the relationship of the past to the present?

How is the Ohio trilogy unified thematically?

One of Richter’s major strengths is said to be his skill at characterization. Analyze the complexities of one of his protagonists.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Conrad Richter (RIK-tur) wrote fourteen novels, all of which were published by Knopf, but in addition to the longer fiction that Richter produced between 1937 and 1968, he also wrote short stories and a variety of nonfiction. He was nearly as prolific a short-story writer as he was a novelist, his earliest published story appearing in 1913. His first volume of collected short stories includes twelve stories under the title Brothers of No Kin, and Other Stories (1924); nine more stories were collected in Early Americana, and Other Stories (1936). Richter wrote short fiction throughout his career, producing more than thirty-one stories, most of which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Many of Richter’s stories still remain uncollected, but a number were gathered in The Rawhide Knot, and Other Stories (1978). Richter’s nonfiction includes four book-length essays on his eclectic personal philosophy: Human Vibration: The Mechanics of Life and Mind (1925), Principles in Bio-Physics: The Underlying Process Controlling Life Phenomena and Inner Evolution (1927), The Mountain on the Desert (1955), and A Philosophical Journey (1955). Six of Richter’s novels have been adapted for motion pictures and television, and Richter himself worked periodically as a writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood between 1937 and 1950, but found that writing for motion pictures was not his forte.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Conrad Richter did not achieve widespread recognition during his long career as a writer despite his receiving the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1951 for The Town and the National Book Award for fiction in 1960 for The Waters of Kronos, beating out Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Updike’s Rabbit Run among the competition. A reclusive man who spent much of his life in rural Pennsylvania and in the isolated mountains of New Mexico, Richter was not a colorful figure whose life drew attention to his work. Because much of his work appeared in serial form for popular and pulp magazines, he has been too hastily dismissed by academic critics. At his best, Richter is a historical novelist of the first rank. He re-creates the past not as a historian would, but rather by reproducing the actualities of frontier experience, conveying them through fidelity to details and local expression. When Richter’s purposes as an artist are more fully understood, it seems certain that critical assessments of his work will acknowledge the judgment of the general reader, with whom Richter continues to be popular.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barnes, Robert J. Conrad Richter. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1968. A short and limited approach to Richter the writer. Opens with a brief biography and then follows with a survey of his fiction which used the Southwest as a setting—nine short stories out of seventy and three of his thirteen novels.

Edwards, Clifford D. Conrad Richter’s Ohio Trilogy. Paris: Mouton, 1970. A good in-depth examination of Richter’s Ohio Trilogy—The Trees, The Fields, and The Town—with a detailed analysis of the writer’s philosophical and psychological themes.

Gaston, Edwin W., Jr. Conrad Richter. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. An excellent introduction to Richter, the man and the writer, and his work. Gaston scrutinizes Richter’s life and philosophy as they resonate in all of his writings. Includes comprehensive notes, references, a bibliography, and an index.

Johnson, David R. Conrad Richter: A Writer’s Life. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. A biography of the novelist, aided by Johnson’s access to Richter’s private papers.

LaHood, Marvin J. Conrad Richter’s America. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1975. LaHood writes an appreciative, if not critical, summary of Richter’s literary work. He avoids a chronological approach, devoting separate chapters to discussions of thematic subject matter.