A Long and Happy Life Analysis
by Reynolds Price

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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Mount Moriah Church

Mount Moriah Church. African American church in a rural North Carolina community at which the novel opens with the funeral of Mildred Sutton, a childhood friend of the novel’s white protagonist, Rosacoke Mustian.

Alston’s woods

Alston’s woods. Wooded area owned by the community’s oldest member, Mr. Isaac Alston, once a relatively powerful resident of the area, now nearly helpless after a stroke, that is the scene of Rosacoke and Wesley’s first encounter. The woods contain a pecan grove. The autumn leaves are gone from its trees, but nuts are still hanging on the branches. Sitting high in a tree, the handsome self-contained young Wesley shakes down handfuls of nuts to Rosacoke and also imprints her forever. Within the woods in a broomstraw field, beyond Alton’s hidden spring, Rosacoke gives herself to Wesley. He is gentle, but does not seem to value the magnitude of her gift nor understand the depth of her sorrow at feeling so lonely afterward.

Mason’s Lake

Mason’s Lake. Private pleasure lake, with a bathhouse, a tin slide, and a diving platform, but only a few trees, most of them having been bulldozed when the owner created the swimming facility. At the Delight Baptist Church picnic Rosacoke watches her brother Milo and Wesley at play in the leech-infested water as she sits with her widowed mother, her younger sister, and her brother’s pregnant wife, Sissie. Also on the shore is Marise Gupton, prematurely aged from constant childbearing.

Mustian house

Mustian house. Simple home in which Rosacoke, Milo, Rato (now in the army), and Baby Sister have grown up. The house has a black tin roof that absorbs the sun, making Rosacoke’s bedroom directly under the eaves hot and oppressive and leaving a yellow rust stain on her ceiling. There is a wood stove in the kitchen and not much privacy for Milo and his wife as Sissie’s home delivery date approaches, and later, her long painful labor that will result in a stillborn boy.

Delight Baptist Church

Delight Baptist Church. Community church to which Rosacoke’s family belongs. While Rosacoke is secretly pregnant and more lonely than ever, she is pushed into playing the part of Mary in the traditional Christmas Eve pageant. Wesley plays one of the Three Wise Men.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Segregated South
Contemporary readers might be surprised to find the casual friendships between blacks and whites portrayed in this novel. Throughout much of American history, races were segregated in the southern states, including North Carolina, where this novel takes place. Most histories of that region in the 1960s tend to focus on the growing violence between blacks and whites as the Civil Rights movement heated up.

Segregation followed from the end of slavery in 1865 and was made into law when the Supreme Court, in 1896, declared that it would not be unconstitutional to treat blacks and whites differently as long as both sides were offered “separate but equal” accommodations. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, many southern states adhered to that policy in theory, although the railroad cars, hotels, housing, etc. that were assigned to blacks were clearly worse than those allowed whites. This situation could not be changed democratically because laws were passed to keep blacks from voting, blocking their way with requirements about land ownership and I.Q. tests that were usually given selectively, excluding uneducated blacks but not uneducated whites.

After World War II, the Civil Rights movement took hold in this country. Black Americans who had been treated as equals in Europe were not content to be treated as second-class citizens in the country they had fought to defend. The 1950s brought a fierce conflict against segregation in the South. In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine in schools, ordering them to find a way to let black students attend the same schools that white students attended. In 1955, Rosa Parks made a significant...

(The entire section is 2,016 words.)