Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 622
Valley. Unnamed valley in an unspecified region of Wales that is semi-rural, without most modern social institutions. There are no formal schools, only one church, and no police stations. The inhabitants look askance on most signs of modern social life, preferring to solve their own problems and making do with what they have. The valley seems to exist in a world of its own, as the narrative provides few allusions to the outside world.
From his early childhood, the narrator, Huw Morgan, is critical of the valley’s coal mines and the harm they bring. For instance, both the miners and owners want to keep bringing up coal from the ground; a stop in production means children go hungry. However, the owners do not properly dispose of the slag that also comes up. Instead, the slag is dumped on open ground in the valley. No one except Huw seems to care about the resulting slag heaps. As Huw gets older, the slag heap becomes a monstrous eyesore, long, and black, without life or sign, stretching along the floor of the valley on both sides of the river, crushing the grass, reeds, and flowers. Eventually, the narrator anthropomorphizes the slag heap, hating it as the enemy of his family and village, as it expands and threatens to crush everything in the valley. The mine’s impact on the environment and on the human spirit are one and the same.
Mountain. Lush and majestic mountain that separates the valley from the town that provides an easy escape from the growing ugliness of industrial life for Huw. He describes it as a place of intense though terrible beauty, with spring flowers and the song of nightingales, but also deep winter snows and river water so cold it takes his breath away. When he is injured as a youth, he goes to the mountain to recover his strength. As an older boy, he finds it a place to wander with his father and learn life lessons. As a teenager, he uses it as a place for secret trysts with his sweetheart. However, even the mountain is no escape from the valley’s slag heap.
Town. Unnamed town near the valley. With various stores, a national school, and several nearby estates, the town is big enough to attract traveling companies of actors. It is significant in the novel only insofar as it demonstrates a difference between urban life and life in the valley. Townspeople in the novel are prone to mob violence. This is indicated near the beginning when Huw is beaten at school by a group of bullies and later when a riot takes place near a theater.
National School. Secondary school in the town that is run by English educators and has a self-hating Welsh teacher who tyrannizes his fellow Welsh students. The school is another significant setting that demonstrates the difference between urban industrial life and the life of the valley. The school provides a potential escape for Huw from the valley, but only at the cost of his selfhood. On his first day at the school, he is chided for speaking Welsh and ordered to only speak English—both at the school and at home. As he continues in school, Huw comes into conflict with his teacher Mr. Jonas, who has only contempt for his Welsh neighbors. Finally, the headmaster at the school pushes Huw toward greater scholarship, holding out the offer of entrance to Oxford or Cambridge as an inducement. Being a man of the valley, however, and unwilling to leave his family to face the troubles alone, Huw stays in the valley, also working in the mines until his father is killed in a mine collapse.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226
Felton, Mick. “Richard Llewellyn.” In British Novelists, 1930-1959. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Describes How Green Was My Valley as an iconoclastic literary achievement of detailed characterization and realism. Finds that the novel accurately portrays the Welsh community, lifestyle, and dialect.
Lindberg, Laurie. “Llewellyn and Giardina, Two Novels About Coal Mining.” Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 1 (1989): 133-140. Identifies How Green Was My Valley as a regional novel that presents what is universal about the human character and its condition. Ideas explored include growth from innocence to experience, the individual exploited by industrial power, and loss of “Eden.”
Price, Derrick. “How Green Was My Valley: A Romance of Wales.” In The Progress of Romance: The Politics of Popular Fiction, edited by Jean Radford. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. Maintains How Green Was My Valley is more than a close view of a working-class Welsh community. Analyzes elements of romance in the story, including rural patriarchy, male-female relationships, replacement of the pastoral with the industrial, and the passing of old ways and beginning of new ways.
Woods, Katherine. “The Sound of Music on the Green Hills of Wales.” The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1940, 3, 19. Asserts that the novel strongly follows the Romantic tradition, while incorporating elements of realism and local color in depicting Welsh independence, pride, courage, and love. Slightly critical of the novel’s nostalgic sentimentality.