Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Country Place, Petry’s second novel, represents a sharp departure from her first novel, the naturalistic and critically acclaimed The Street, which won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Award. Country Place also deviates largely from much of African American literary tradition and convention. The characters of Country Place represent a cast of largely white characters, with the minor characters representing various ethnic and cultural origins. This aspect of the novel, as well as its rural setting, gave rise to criticism of the narrative’s “raceless” aspect. However, literary historian Arthur Davis, in his 1974 text From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900-1960, defends Petry’s choice of a small town as her subject, stating that Petry had written “about a life that in all probability she knew better than the life she wrote about in The Street. ”

Petry’s skillful manipulation of point of view, her brilliant characterization, and her economical writing style have prompted many critics to judge Country Place her most successful novel. Comparing Petry’s work to that of Zora Neale Hurston, Chester Himes, Willard Motley, and Frank Yerby, the renowned literary critic and historian Robert Bone referred to Country Place as “the best of the assimilationist novels.” Bone called Country Place a “distinguished achievement” and judged it among one of the finest novels of the protest period because it is “a manifestation not so much of assimilation as of versatility.”