Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Although Erskine Caldwell’s principal works include twenty-seven novels and numerous collections of stories, his reputation in American fiction rests on two novels, Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre. Both were made into successful films, and a dramatization of Tobacco Road ran for seven years on Broadway. A minister’s son from Georgia, Caldwell became a world traveler as a writer and newspaperman. His best works, however, were about his home, about back-country Georgia families. God’s Little Acre is a naturalistic novel, in which victimized characters are less individuals than they are members of groups that are typical of a given place and time. In God’s Little Acre, the characters are archetypal residents of southern farms and mill towns during the first years of the Depression. The Walden family members are victims of larger forces: economic (hard times for farmers and labor disputes in the mills), biological (strong sexual drives disturbing marriages), social (class struggles), and cosmic (the proper relationship to God). The novel is made more than a sociological study by the human and individual dignity achieved by Ty Ty and his son-in-law Will, who choose to struggle against the odds. Ty Ty struggles against the unyielding earth and Will against the mill owners who lock out their workers. Ironically, neither succeeds; they trust in goals that are romantic and unrealistic. Ty Ty never finds gold, and his involvement of his family in the search tears the family apart. Will is killed by company guards after heroically turning on the power at the mill. Perversity of actions and outcomes becomes a motif that adds to the grotesque humor, something unusual in naturalistic works. The myth of the farmer’s closeness to the land and crops is exploded by Ty Ty, who refuses to farm and craters the land looking for gold,...

(The entire section is 767 words.)