Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521

HEAVEN’S MY DESTINATION is structured around its main character, George Brush, and it is in many ways an involved and complicated study of an all-too-familiar comic hero. Brush is motivated by one outstanding desire, and that is to have a “fine American home.” His exploits put him in contact with people and situations that thwart his search; but through these encounters, Thornton Wilder develops a George Brush whom readers look at humorously and sympathetically. The reader would probably find Brush’s evangelism obnoxious if he thought Brush to be consciously hostile and aggravating. Yet it is clear from the beginning that George Brush is motivated by a sincere desire to do good. For this reason, he is pathetic. The causes of Brush’s misery lie in his own method of reasoning and coming to conclusions. He bases his principles on Christian morality but tries to interpret them strictly and apply them to all people—there is no flexibility in the substance of Brush’s ethics. He aspires by his example to change everyone with whom he comes in contact, and he is repeatedly shattered when people laughingly reject him. Yet the impact of their rejection never truly scars George Brush, for he bounces back for more, oblivious to the reasons why people think him such a fool.

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This novel is quite different from any other Wilder literary work. In many ways, it is Wilder’s approach to immortalizing his own belief that eternity is all-important to the activities of man and that heaven is truly man’s destination. Wilder uses plain descriptive prose in this novel and remains fairly objective, allowing the reader to make his own inferences and observations. Wilder is not the philosopher he appears to be in other works. Rather, he attempts to reveal the influences upon him in his own youth and the results of his own religious upbringing. In HEAVEN’S MY DESTINATION, he tries to put these ideas into perspective in terms of a believable character. There are times in the novel when the thoughts and actions of George Brush are very funny, contemporary, and exceedingly familiar. His experiences cannot help but reinforce one’s faith in goodness, no matter what the penalties are for trying to achieve it.

Brush is seen in the final pages of the novel as unchanged. Throughout, he has been at odds with what is considered “normal” behavior, and there is no reason to expect that anything will be different in his future life-style. He will continue his travels as a textbook salesman, probably never settling in that “fine American home.” His failure is pathetic, and the routineness of his life and search are apparent. Yet it is difficult to put George Brush into a category and unequivocally say that readers like or dislike him. Wilder asserts that he has portrayed Brush with realism, not satire. It is not impossible, however, to see Brush in a highly satiric light in terms of religious enthusiasts and their programs for salvation. Brush, like many with missionary intent, demands a great deal of acceptance and understanding and offers very little in return.

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