Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
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 do not conform. Its residents are mystified when the outgoing Bunny overlooks the nearby church college and instead attends the state university. There he meets and marries the most “un-American” woman, according to the town’s perception, since she is an older, working-class, communist immigrant. In a conformist town, the rebel Margaret finds support in books. Social pressure stifles Margaret into silence until she flees to New York City.
*Greenwich Village (GREH-nich). Section of New York City’s Lower Manhattan that Margaret idealizes as a place of freedom because of its bohemian lifestyle. There she lives in a basement apartment, enduring physical poverty while enjoying mental liberty. However, she quickly becomes disillusioned with bohemian poverty and begins an affair with a medical doctor because of his loving adoration of her.
*Geneva. Small Iowa town thirty-six miles east of Belmond where Carl attends the church college and later settles. Named Geneva after the capital of Switzerland, the peace-making nation, the town is used symbolically. There, Carl, unwilling to break with conformity, resigns himself to replicating the security of his father by not following his own dream for self-fulfillment. He resigns himself to his marriage with a passive-aggressive wife and a job that he merely tolerates.
*California. Pacific coast state which, since its mid-nineteenth century gold rush, has occupied a place in the American psyche as a land of golden opportunity. Jesse and Dorothy are drawn to California, where they live extravagantly. People in Belmond are agog when they hear the reports of the four servants who run Jesse and Dorothy’s household. Jesse and Dorothy’s dreams are dashed, however, when the stock market crashes in 1929, and they are forced to rent out their magnificent home.
*Pasadena. Southern California bedroom community near Los Angeles to which Fred and Annie go to retire. Pasadena is a place offering a luxuriant retirement but no sense of belonging. Retirees are not needed but are kept busy. Repelled by this, Fred and Annie return to live out their lives in Belmond, where they feel needed. Of the novel’s main characters, only these two are willing to forego the gilded promises of places that are not home and accept the idiosyncrasies of small-town America. In accepting themselves and their place, they find greater contentment than do their children.
Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220
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.”
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