(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Country Place is a departure both from Ann Petry’s first novel, The Street (1946), and from African American literary tradition. Country Place focuses on a community of main characters who are predominantly white; the book’s minor characters are of varying ethnicities and cultures within a small, rural New England town. The conflicts that arise between the characters, however, are conflicts of class. Petry focuses on the demarcation between the aristocratic and working classes to expose the town’s underlying foundations of bigotry, malice, promiscuity, and violence.

The novel begins with the arrival of Johnnie Roane in Lennox as he returns home from World War II. He immediately discovers, in his taxi ride with the Weasel, that his prolonged absence has forced him to view Lennox more clearly. His dreams of a loving reunion with his wife Glory, who he hopes will help him to “forget wars and rumors of wars,” are dashed by the Weasel’s sly innuendo of Glory’s affair with the town rake, Ed Barrell.

Despite his suspicions, Johnnie continues to idealize Glory, even though his love for her thwarts his ambitions and keeps him trapped in Lennox: “You want Glory . . . but having her means Lennox. So you forget you ever heard of a paintbrush or a drawing pencil or a place known in some circles as Manhattan Island.” Glory, however, is not willing to accept Johnnie back. His absence has enabled her to feel independent, and her job at Perkin’s store allows her to receive much attention from the men in town. Bored with the thought of marriage and domestic chores, Glory becomes attracted to Ed Barrell, the town stud with a bad heart, who habitually enters into affairs with married women.

Glory’s mother,...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bone, Robert A. The Negro Novel in America. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. Pioneering work that traces the evolution of the African American novel from 1890 to 1952. Examines Petry’s work within the context of the postwar expansion.

Davis, Arthur P. From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900-1960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974. Examines Petry in the context of other major African American writers and calls Country Place “small-town realistic fiction.” Includes biographical information and bibliography.

Ervin, Hazel Arnett, ed. The Critical Response to Ann Petry. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. Collection of sixteen book reviews and twenty-six scholarly articles on Petry, ordered chronologically according to the novel to which they respond. Includes a critical and biographical introductory essay by the editor.

Lubin, Alex, ed. Revising the Blueprint: Ann Petry and the Literary Left. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. Collection of essays that together stress the importance of Petry’s participation in progressive political action for understanding her work. Includes an essay by Paula Rabinowitz on Country Place as pulp fiction, as well as several more general studies of Petry’s fiction.

Mobley, Marilyn Sanders. “Ann Petry.” In African American Writers, edited by Valerie Smith. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991. Examines the “unique double perspective” that Petry brings to her literary work as a result of her middle-class upbringing in a small New England town and her years of living and working with impoverished African Americans in New York City. Explores this dichotomous writing style as it presents itself in Petry’s three novels, including Country Place.

Petry, Ann. “A MELUS Interview: Ann Petry—The New England Connection.” Interview by Mark Wilson. MELUS 15, no. 2 (1988): 71-84. Petry discusses her personal and professional life, particularly her New England childhood and its influence upon much of her later writing.

Shinn, Thelma J. “Women in the Novels of Ann Petry.” In Contemporary Women Novelists, edited by Patricia M. Spacks. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977. Explores Petry’s novels and their female protagonists. Illustrates Petry’s focus on the individual’s struggle with society, in which the morally weak are misled by illusions and destroyed by impoverishment, and the morally strong are forced to symbolize the very society they reject.