The original title of Fruits of the Earth was “The Chronicles of Spalding District.” Although the publishers were probably correct in suggesting the richer, more suggestive title, the original one best describes the nature of the realistic plot of the novel. The work offers a chronological record of Abe Spalding’s career, beginning with his arrival on the bare prairie, on which he is eventually to build a vast farmhouse and barns. Abe’s career is followed step-by-step to the peak of his economic success while, at the same time, there is a continuing revelation of why his great achievement is flawed.
The story, in fact, can easily be divided into two parts, a division the author himself uses to give shape to his material. Part 1, “Abe Spalding,” delineates the courageous, determined pioneer. Abe is shown as a man of epic proportions, a “giant in the earth,” a man capable of combating and, to a degree, of overcoming the forces of nature and society which oppose his success. Much of the focus of this first part is on revealing that Abe had to be dominant, at times even rigid, to be able to withstand the adversities nature and society sent his way. Repeatedly, Abe is shown as having the singleminded preoccupation necessary for building a substantial farm in a vast, empty plain.
Part 2, “The District,” traces what happens once Abe has used his tremendous resources to give shape and order to the environment. In effect, by demonstrating through will and determination that the land is arable, he has prepared the district for culture and civilization. This second section, however, stresses that singleness of determination is inadequate in the face of the varied and complex demands which will be placed on the world he created. The farm itself will, it is repeatedly suggested, decay, just as the grand and awesome structures of Egypt and Rome and Greece have decayed and fallen into disuse. In part, failure is inevitable, for no human achievement can withstand either the continuing forces of nature or the equally rapidly changing needs, wants, and desires of civilization. The novel begins to take on a tragic tone as it increasingly becomes clear that Abe’s heroic features are diminished in these circumstances. Once the environment is tamed, the pioneer’s task is done. He lives throughout most of the second half of the book as an anachronism ....
(The entire section is 608 words.)