The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because Fruits of the Earth is built so obviously around the central and dominating protagonist, a clear understanding of that character will show how the minor characters act as complements or foils to his all-important qualities. Abe Spalding may be counted among the most important creations of Canadian literature dealing with the pioneer spirit. He is given near-tragic dimensions, for he embodies the indomitable singleness of spirit required to combat nature, a singleness which also limits him from full participation in the society to which he gives birth.

Abe represents the duality which haunts so much of Canadian writing. On one hand, he is the striking, admirable individual of heroic stature who can, and does, overcome nature, at least in the immediate sense. He builds where there was nothing before him and therefore earns the reader’s respect and admiration. Moreover, he is an intelligent man who becomes, gradually, fully aware of his dilemma: He can build the foundations for a society, but he cannot sustain it.

Frederick Philip Grove is particularly masterful in his method of gradually allowing his protagonist to gain insight into his own flaw. Employing a third-person narrator, he usually describes the successes and failures of his main character from an exterior point of view; in crucial scenes, however, he allows the narrative voice to merge with the consciousness revealed, thereby giving a powerful and clear sense of the inner feelings of the protagonist. Particularly memorable is the presentation of Abe’s insight into the impermanence of his own creation: “The moment a work of man was finished, nature set to work to take it down again.” Just as nature—the weathering process—gradually begins to erode his house the moment it is completed, so society and culture begin to erode the singleness of purpose used to give a basis to the District of Spalding. The gradual process of decay represented by nature, and the inevitable winds of change represented by social forces, will gradually and inevitably disperse and erode the single force that gave shape to the whole. A tremendous measure of sympathy is accorded Abe by the end of the book.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abe Spalding

Abe Spalding, a successful pioneer. Standing six feet, four inches, he is a giant both literally and figuratively within the district that bears his name. More than a hardworking farmer, Abe possesses intelligence and foresightedness that help him survive a series of problems ranging from drought and flood to family disgrace and death. Only thirty years old when the novel opens, Abe devotes the next twenty years to building a legacy for his family. Eventually, after surviving numerous crises, he realizes not only that his material affluence is ephemeral but also that it is unwanted by his offspring. As each child moves away from home, Abe feels that the family heritage he has fought to establish is slowly slipping away. With that insight comes the realization that his life has been pointless, and he slips into a depression. By the closing pages, however, he has found a new purpose for his life: He leads a battle against the post-World War I decadence growing in Spalding District.

Ruth Spalding

Ruth Spalding, Abe’s wife. The daughter of small-town merchants, she has difficulty adjusting to the life of a prairie wife. Not even capable of milking cows, she resents Abe’s preoccupation with the farm and with district politics. As her slim figure becomes “plump” and, later, “stout,” she sequesters herself inside their shack and isolates herself from the community. With four children to rear, she badgers Abe to build a larger house and refuses to acknowledge his financial concerns about losing the farm. After twelve years of marriage, he is able to save enough money to build her dream house. Ironically, one of their children is killed when the construction is completed, and their palace becomes a shell rather...

(The entire section is 725 words.)