Jean Lee Latham Peter C. Lawrence - Essay

Peter C. Lawrence

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The ambitious attempt of Miss Latham to portray Sam Houston as a human being as well as a patriot [in Retreat to Glory, the Story of Sam Houston] in no way detracts from her explanation of the life and times in which he lived. Throughout the narrative Houston's many faceted personality is merged with the tumultuous events of American History from the War of 1812 through the secession of Texas in the Civil War, and from the merger of man with events comes a picture of a citizen with the courage of his convictions.

The story, written in a simple, straightforward style, serves several purposes. The issues that faced our growing nation—war and our military system, Indian problems, expansion, political maneuvering, and the many problems associated with sectionalism—are explained in terms of their social, political and economic impact using the episodes of Houston's life as a focal point. The problems are removed from text book sterility and made real through the author's skillful use of dialogue. The explanation of events involving the settling of Texas and its struggle for independence and statehood is particularly effective.

Perhaps more important than the relating of history is the character study of Houston. The adolescent of today can readily identify with the young man who appeared to be the typical square peg in a round hole. There are also opportunities for the young reader to be inspired by Houston's courage to find a suitable life, work hard for what he wanted, and fight bravely in defense of his beliefs. In light of the sometimes cynical questioning of motives and men today, this narrative becomes a welcome partial explanation of American greatness. (pp. 80-1)

Peter C. Lawrence, in The Social Studies (copyright © 1967 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), February, 1967.