Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Ferguson farm

Ferguson farm. Family farm located outside Belmond, Iowa, that the novel idealizes as a source of goodness. It is the source of the family’s heritage and wholesome food, and the family’s therapeutic retreat. Suckow idealizes the American pioneering family farm but recognizes that it cannot continue to be the foundation of American society.


*Belmond. Small town in north-central Iowa whose name is derived from the French words belle monde for “beautiful world.” Suckow uses the name ironically, for though the town is a beautiful world, since people accept their lot in life and their interdependence, Belmond embraces small-town narrow-mindedness, conventionality, and interference in others’ affairs. The town functions as a character commenting on and evaluating the characters as they grow into adults, search for work, create families, and start their lives.

Belmond affirms the Ferguson family’s two “all-American” children, Carl and Dorothy. Carl, Belmond’s high school football hero, basks in the town’s admiration. However, he also acquiesces to its emphasis on security in marriage and career and abandons his dreams. Dorothy is the town’s darling, and its residents envy her when she marries the charismatic Jesse Woodward, who whisks her away to California with visions of wealth, prosperity, and marital bliss.

Belmond also censures the two Ferguson children who...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Herron, Ima Honaker. The Small Town in American Literature. New York: Haskell House, 1971. Classifies Suckow as a fair, dispassionate, and accurate observer of small town life in the Midwest. The Folks is also the story of rapidly changing times and a changing American society.

Kissane, Leedice McAnelly. Ruth Suckow. New York: Twayne, 1969. Major book-length study of the author. In a lengthy analysis of The Folks, which she considers Suckow’s best work, Kissane considers style, theme, and characterization. Chronology, extensive notes, and annotated bibliography.

Omrcanin, Margaret Stewart. Ruth Suckow: A Critical Study of Her Fiction. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1972. A topical analysis of Suckow’s works. References to The Folks are scattered through chapters on setting, social significance, and universal themes. Appendices contain chronological bibliography of Suckow’s writings and comprehensive list of secondary sources.

Tomkinson, Grace. “Cycle of Iowa.” The Canadian Forum 15 (December, 1934): 119-120. Praises Suckow’s skill, her honesty, her penetrating characterization, and her gentle satire. Although called “the great Middlewestern novel,” in fact The Folks has a universal appeal.

Van Doren, Dorothy. “Real People.” The Nation 139 (October 17, 1934): 454-455. An interesting contemporaneous review. Argues that the novel is about the failure of an old order and the birth of a new, “as inevitable as it is unsatisfying.” Despite some technical imperfections, The Folks is “warm with the breath of life.”