From the Terrace Themes
by John O'Hara

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Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Both as novel and as artifact, From the Terrace is very much a product of its time, one of several powerful portraits of businessmen produced during the fifteen-year period after World War II. Following the success of John P. Marquand’s Point of No Return (1949), America’s novelists of manners had trained their sights increasingly upon the business world; a generation later, From the Terrace can be seen as both a representative and an exceptional example of the trend.

Instead of merely showing his character in context, O’Hara sought also to delve behind the scenes for a full psychological portrait, albeit devoid of obvious Freudian truisms. In Alfred Eaton’s case, the same qualities that ensure his success are shown also as defects that will guarantee his eventual failure. Alfred’s individualism, forged and fostered by his lonely childhood, allows his talents to develop unencumbered; at the same time, he never feels obliged to develop the interpersonal skills that lubricate the mechanisms of the business world. As assistant secretary of the Navy, he fails crucially to foster a good working relationship with the press, never perceiving that such a relationship might provide him with the information needed to perform and keep his job. Back in New York City, he discovers the fatal consequences of his earlier actions; in the past, he has never appeared to need people, and now there are none around to help him.

In telling Alfred’s story, O’Hara is careful also to show the complementary roles of sexual activity and violent death, two themes that by 1958 had become something of an O’Hara trademark. Although perhaps rather tame when reviewed by the standards of a later generation, O’Hara’s novels were notorious for their lurid sex scenes, and were often banned from sale by a...

(The entire section is 448 words.)