A major issue for critical readers of Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley is determining if the novel belongs to the tradition of realism, as some critics have stated, or of romance, as others believe. In fact, the novel is the rare combination of the two. This nostalgic and sentimental novel honors the traditions of the past, but the romance is overlaid with a fineness of detail that conjures the particular feeling of life in a Welsh coal-mining town.
How Green Was My Valley belongs to the tradition of the Adamic myth, in which a character falls from his blissful innocence into uncertainty. The setting of the novel, identified only as “the Valley,” lends credibility to this analysis. A reader will be hard put to identify the exact setting. The events occur in a Welsh coal-mining community, but historical events of the world outside the Valley never intrude on the lives of the characters. The story seems to take place in a gauzy, timeless era when life was less complicated and better. Only scant references to Winston Churchill, the home secretary of Great Britain, and a slight allusion to the Boer Wars identify the time of the novel as the beginning of the twentieth century. The Valley is a world unto itself, and all that one needs to live a good and proper life can be found there.
The narrator, Huw Morgan, tells the story of his growing up, and his story, moving from innocence to experience, corresponds to the history of the Valley. It, too, is moving from a past grounded in tradition to an uncertain future. While Huw is as much a product of the Valley as his coal-mining neighbors, he is detached somewhat in his role of observer. His education, first obtained as a bookish child confined to a bed for a long period and later augmented at a National School outside the Valley, sets him apart from rustic folk of the Valley.
Huw declines to take the examination for entrance to the university and decides to become a miner like his brothers. Huw’s entrance into the mine marks the point between boyhood and manhood. It is no accident that Huw fails as a coal miner and instead becomes a skilled carpenter, a trade he learns at the side of Mr. Gruffydd, the minister. This trade is appropriate for “Christlike” Huw, a human of great kindness. Huw’s compassionate point of view serves as a striking foil to the dominating patriarchal culture of the Valley. One scene that particularly illustrates this tension occurs in church when Huw publicly questions the deacons’ decision to banish an unwed pregnant woman from the congregation.
While Huw may stand for New Testament values, the traditional patriarchal culture of the Valley...
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