Places Discussed

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

The Segregated South
Contemporary readers might be surprised to find the casual friendships between blacks and whites portrayed...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Literary Style

Point of View
A Long and Happy Life is told from a thirdperson limited point of view. It is third person because the...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Compare and Contrast

1962: The space race is going ahead with full force. The first American orbits around the earth this year.


(The entire section is 204 words.)

Topics for Further Study

The people in this novel live in a rural area with electric lights and telephones, but they possess not much more in the way of modern...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Media Adaptations

A Long and Happy Life is one of five novels that Price reads from on Reynolds Price Reads, an audio collection published from...

(The entire section is 70 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

The history of the Mustian family begins several years earlier than the setting of A Long and Happy Life. Milo is fifteen in A...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Drake, Robert, “Coming of Age in North Carolina,” in the Southern Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1967, pp....

(The entire section is 271 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Hoffman, Frederick J. The Art of Southern Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. Hoffman was the first noteworthy critic to announce that Reynolds Price’s work was an important event in Southern fiction. Hoffman defends Price’s work against charges that the author is imitating William Faulkner.

Holman, David Marion. “Reynolds Price.” Fifty Southern Writers After 1900. Edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Holman provides the best overall discussion of A Long and Happy Life within the context of the novelist’s career and of Southern fiction. With...

(The entire section is 218 words.)