Joan Barfoot Miriam Waddington - Essay

Miriam Waddington

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Abra] is a didactic novel, and deals more successfully with ideas than people. Even the name Abra is significant, suggesting as it does Abracadabra, an ancient cabbalistic configuration of letters that was supposed to cure fevers. (p. 102)

[Abra inherits] enough money to buy a remote country property where she can hole up with garden, books, and birds. In this way she eliminates all social contact, and with it, all conflict, pain, and responsibility.

Who doesn't recognize this fantasy? Every child dreams of such utopian omnipotence. He will run away to the forest…. And no messy human relationship will ever touch, dominate, disappoint, or reject him again. Even better than Robinson Crusoe. He had a footprint to contend with.

Abra finds no footprints in her retreat. Her withdrawal is complete and represents the furthest extreme of fearfulness, which, Barfoot implies—unconsciously I think—is the inevitable result of the pain and horror we must all endure in the anonymity and violence of today's social living….

What does Abra's long withdrawal from social life and her return to nature really signify? Abra's abandonment of her children, her lack of guilt, her rationalization of her problems, are not in the least convincing. We are asked to believe in the cool imperturbability of her nature on the one hand, and in her sensitive passion for willow trees on the other. Most...

(The entire section is 530 words.)