The Huge Season Summary
by Wright Morris

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The Huge Season Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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The Huge Season is closely related to Morris’s other novels in that it reflects one of his common themes: the hold of the past over the present. Where this book breaks fresh ground, however, is in its employment of raw material. It differs in that it is the first, and fullest, treatment that Morris gives to his experiences in college. Moreover, this is the first novel in which Morris shows a protagonist, Peter Foley, who actually escapes from the crippling forces of nostalgia and the mythic past.

In The Huge Season, the past is the 1920’s, an artistically heroic age that produced such great writers as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. When compared with the dull, seemingly unheroic 1950’s, the past becomes magnified; in the minds of the main characters in the book—Montana Lou Baker, Jesse Proctor, Lundgren, and even Foley himself—it assumes blighting significance. All are, in a sense, captive to it and cannot free themselves from its compelling forces.

The central focus of the novel is one Charles Gans Lawrence, a tennis player and dormitory mate of Foley who, like Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), has everything—money, good looks, and athletic ability. Lawrence, like Gatsby, proves to be psychologically dazzling. Exhibiting a tough, unpredictable compulsiveness, Lawrence fascinates his friends by performing audacious deeds. He first astounds them by becoming a superlative tennis player, despite the fact that he has one arm that is practically useless. Later, near the end of his sophomore year, Lawrence pulls another surprise by abruptly leaving college, apparently bored by it all, and going to Spain to become a bullfighter. Then, after being badly gored, he commits suicide, perhaps out of despair, perhaps to impress his friends, and he leaves what proves to be an indelible stamp on their imaginations.

The tension that Morris develops in the novel between past and present is filtered through the viewpoint of Foley, whose memory operates on two discrete levels. The present-day action, titled “Foley,” is a third-person narrative that follows the events of a single day in which Jesse Proctor, an old friend of Foley, had testified before the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. Foley travels to New York City, ostensibly intending to visit Proctor and Baker. In the process, however, he spends much of his time ruminating about the effects of his twenty-three-year mental captivity, dating from May 5, 1929, when Lawrence shot himself.

The past action of the 1920’s is cast in a series of episodes contained in “The Captivity” sections. Written in the first-person voice, it represents Foley’s unfinished book manuscript about Lawrence. From a functional standpoint, the historical “Captivity” chapters chronicle actual historical events, while the “Foley” sections represent an attempt to find meaning in those events. In the end, they come together when Foley realizes that his captivity has been lifelong and that he has at last escaped from the pull of the past.

What causes this recognition is hinted at in an epiphanal moment that Foley experiences near the end of the book. Summing up the heroics of his generation, Foley asks himself:Did they lack conviction? No. . . . What they lacked was intention. They could shoot off guns, . . . jump from upper-floor windows, . . . or take sleeping pills to quiet the bloody cries of the interior. But they would not carry this war to the enemy. That led to action, action to evil, . . . and to the temporal kingdom rather than the eternal heavenly one. That led, in short, where they had no intention of ending up. The world of men here below. The God-awful mess men had made of it.

What Foley eventually recognizes is that life enhancement requires intention, which throughout the book Morris allies with conception, or the ability to make constructive use of the past. Survival in the present requires that one face facts, be they disconcerting or no, and try to put them to positive use. By the end Foley does so, and it grants him his emancipation.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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