The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Each of the twenty-three chapters in The Land of Plenty is titled with a character’s name. Six chapters are Johnny Hagen’s, five revolve around Walt Connor, three Carl Belcher, two each for Hagen and Winters, and one each for Marie, Ellen, and “The Light Man” who is trying to collect money from Hagen on his electricity bill. In this way, Cantwell is able to describe both action and motivation from different perspectives; in fact, in what is a daring move, the first chapter of The Land of Plenty is narrated from the consciousness of Carl Belcher, who of course becomes one of the leading villains in the story. Cantwell’s method works well; instead of feeling that the odds have been stacked in this class war, readers view Depression situations from the perspectives of all the different characters, strikers and managers alike.

While the major action in the novel is carried by the more experienced characters such as Hagen, Winters, and Carl, the title of part 2—“The Education of a Worker”— shows that the novel is really about the next generation, Johnny and Walt, and these two characters have nearly half the chapters in the book, all but four in part 2. The parallels between the two young men are clear, for both have had to forgo plans for college to return to work. Yet while Johnny learns over the course of the novel that “the workingman hasn’t got a chance,” Walt goes over to management. It is his education as well...

(The entire section is 485 words.)