God's Little Acre Summary
God’s Little Acre, published on the heels of Tobacco Road, appeared in 1933 to favorable reviews and a highly publicized fracas with the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice that focused enormous public attention on the new novel. Here Caldwell brought in more concentrated form many of the ideas that had interested him in the earlier book. Again he sought to explain that “feeling,” trust in oneself and in God—a state very similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliance—is the natural goal of humankind.
In God’s Little Acre, as in Tobacco Road, Caldwell treads an uneasy line between preaching that a divinity waits inside human beings to be freed and showing humans at their most irrational. In other words, he is never quite sure if he is a romantic who believes that humans are limitless or a naturalist who sees them as helpless victims of economic forces, their emotions, and their biology.
In depicting Will Thompson, the visionary leader, Caldwell resorts to an even more poetic style than he used in describing Jeeter’s love for the soil, one that recalls Caldwell’s early ambitions as a poet and his impressionistic prose poem The Sacrilege of Alan Kent, privately printed in 1936, though written in stages much earlier. When Will Thompson reluctantly appears at Ty Ty Walden’s farm to help his father-in-law in his foolish search for gold, Caldwell’s episodic story takes an aberrant turn. What at first seems to be only a rollicking story of rural eccentrics becomes an account of labor unrest, infidelity, and murder.
In God’s Little Acre, as in Tobacco Road, a patriarchal figure embodying a host of contradictions becomes a sort of spokesman for Caldwell in the solemn stillness of the book’s conclusion. Ty Ty Walden endorses the strength, joie de vivre, and sexual vitality of his daughter’s husband and recognizes (unlike his jealous sons) Will’s qualities of leadership. Though Will represents a threat to familial unity and to the virtues of his sister-in-law Griselda (his other sister-in-law, Darling Jill, has no virtue to worry about), Ty Ty must acknowledge the divinity he discerns within him. Will’s raging libido becomes, in the course of the novel, a positive force, as it is from the love and admiration of three women that he acquires the strength to lead the mill workers in opening the mill, shut by selfish monied interests.
After Will, who has gradually been identified with Christ, has distributed his garments (by throwing his torn-up shirt out the window of the seized mill), he is killed by soldiers (out-of-state guards hired by the mill owners). In the aftermath of his death comes more tragedy, but readers are left with the belief, haltingly explained by Ty Ty, that Will’s life has been a model for all and that conventional morality plays little role in the lives of heroes whose lives are at the service of the masses.
Ty Ty Walden and his sons, Shaw and Buck, have been digging holes on their Georgia farm for fifteen years in search of gold, without success. Ty Ty decides to bring back an albino to find the gold, ignoring a plea for food from the two black men who farm his land. Ty Ty is a man with gold fever and does not have time for anything else. The father has set aside “God’s little acre” to give the church whatever money it produces, but he moves the acre with each new hole to avoid giving the gold to a preacher. Pluto Swint, a sheriff’s candidate, and Darling Jill, who rejects his offers of marriage, go to Carolina to bring her sister Rosamond and her millworker husband, Will Thompson, back to help dig, because he is out on strike.
At Rosamond’s, her husband Will, drunk, announces he is going to have Buck’s wife, Griselda, whom Ty Ty has said is a perfect female. Will tells his protesting wife it is all in the family. Rosamond apologizes for her husband and forgives his remark. Later, Will says he will soon turn on the power at the mill and the workers will run it. In the morning,...
(The entire section is 1,530 words.)