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...
(The entire section is 494 words.)