Critical Evaluation

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Wright Morris worked in a variety of literary genres, including novels, short stories, and essays, and he was also a photographer. His award-winning novels focus on the interpersonal relationships between men and women, the effect of the past on people’s lives, the pursuit of wealth and the American Dream, and the quest for an authentic identity. Many of Morris’s characters come from the Midwest, an endless plain that forms the backdrop for the emotional lives of his ordinary men and women. For revealing them in their quests for meaning and love and for the humor and originality of his technique, Morris gained far-reaching critical success, but his popular acclaim remained comparatively small. The reason for his relative obscurity may lie in the fact that he does not use a traditional, linear plot. This accounts for certain difficulties in his works, yet their complexity is tempered by vivid characterization, country charm, and wit. Morris writes in the vernacular, playing off the peculiar rhythms and hidden meanings that infuse everyday speech. It is actually the author’s colloquial jokes and startling images that form the texture of the novel.

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In terms of structure, Morris’s technique is sophisticated, if not avant-garde. As its title suggests, The Field of Vision is about point of view. More specifically, the novel poses the question, How do people know what they know? The answer is that all truth is subjective. At the bullfight, for example, there are as many bullfights as there are spectators. Nobody sees the same bullfight, because every individual’s experience of the present is colored and shaped by memory of the past. Personal history is the lens through which each individual views the world. The form of Morris’s novel reflects its content: Each chapter bears the name of the character whose perceptions filter the events of the narrative and act as channels for the reader.

Each character sees things differently. Consequently, the real bullfight disappears and the reader is left with contrasting impressions of the same event. After the moment when Boyd shakes up his soda pop and squirts it into the bull’s face, Boyd sees himself as the clowning hero, the show-stealer, and life of the party. His friend McKee sees him as the same old joker, as the man who says he can walk on water and who persuades McKee to believe him. Lois sees Boyd as the foolish braggart who once stole her heart but idiotically refuses to grow up. Her father, Tom Scanlon, simply sees him as a ridiculous figure, and Boyd’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lehmann, views him as a brilliant visionary who does not even come close to touching the rock bottom he mistakenly believes himself to have encountered.

Central to The Field of Vision is the problem of charisma, hero worship in general, and, specifically, the domination of one personality over another. Boyd is a charmer, a lady’s man with the gift of gab. Lois cannot forget that Boyd was the first man to kiss her, and she is haunted by a sensual memory of youth and happiness even while she despises her husband for catering to Boyd’s vanity. Boyd is always in need of an audience; he has to be center stage, and this need has different effects on different people.

McKee has been enamored of Boyd ever since they were boys, and he sees nothing wrong with his infatuation; indeed, he is hardly conscious of it, going so far as to allow his own son to be named for Boyd. Symbolically, then, he relinquishes his paternity and masculinity just as he did when he allowed Boyd to kiss his fiancé. At the close of the novel, though, McKee undergoes the transformative experience that is central to Morris’s work. When Boyd lowers McKee’s grandson into the bullring, McKee finally stands up to him: “’If something should happen to that boy—’ said McKee, but it left him speechless, just to think of it....

(The entire section contains 1070 words.)

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