Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ivy Days: Making My Way Out East is a wry first-person narrative that examines the impact on an innocent Iowan of attending Smith College, an elite woman’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. Toth scrutinizes the difficulties and doubts, largely unexamined at the time, that she faced as a scholarship student in highly competitive Lawrence House, where she lived while attending Smith from 1957 to 1961. An unsophisticated young woman from Ames, Iowa, a small town in a rural setting not far from Des Moines, she longed to see and experience the East that she had read about in American literature. Instead, the awe that she felt at the wealth and confidence of the Easterners she met was tempered by her own isolation and claustrophobia.

The introductory section of the book, “Ivy Days,” is written from Toth’s viewpoint twenty-five years later as a divorced single parent and a college professor herself. This strategy, also used in Toth’s earlier memoir Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood (1981), sets the pattern for the chapters that follow: Each is preceded by a brief italicized vignette featuring Toth’s experiences and opinions long after college.

“Out East,” the first chapter, depicts the process of cracking the unfamiliar codes of clothing styles and the Honor System, speculating about the wild students who attended parties in New York, and enduring nude pictures to determine posture flaws. Her homesickness for her mother, widowed...

(The entire section is 606 words.)