Places Discussed

Midland town

Midland town. Midwestern city modeled on Indianapolis, Indiana, Booth Tarkington’s birthplace and hometown. The town offers a physical representation of the novel’s theme: changes in values and even the kinds of corruption that arrive in the wake of progress. The novel conveys the idea that while change is inevitable—in the town, in class structure, in the economy—it also exacts a high cost in aesthetic and moral values.

The novel’s Midland town is in transition. Its center of population is moving away from its former downtown area as new generations build their homes on the town’s outskirts. Additions and subdivisions and roads multiply. However, as the town’s economy becomes more reliant on manufacturing and as gas and electricity are more commonly used, the town also acquires grime, soot, and polluted air.

Tensions between the past and the future are incarnated in the novel’s two antagonists, George Minafer, scion of the wealthy, upper-crust Amberson family, and Eugene Morgan—an inventor, particularly of automobiles. George hates automobiles and intensely dislikes Eugene for both personal and cultural reasons. It is clear that George wants the present and the future to be identical to the past. Eugene, on the other hand, knows that the future must bring change and finds the future exciting. To resist change—personal, cultural, and economic—George goes to extremes that are painful for him...

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Literary Techniques

The primary technique used by Tarkington in The Magnificent Ambersons is a literary realism in which the closely observed details of...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

In some ways, The Magnificent Ambersons is an old-style novel whose themes of familial and societal obligations, the influence of...

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Social Concerns

Booth Tarkington's The Magnificient Ambersons describes the decline of the Amberson family from wealthy social prominence to...

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Literary Precedents

When he named George Minafer's horse "Pendennis," Tarkington suggested a model for some of the characters in his novel. George himself is...

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Related Titles

The Growth trilogy, of which The Magnificent Ambersons is the second volume, is an extended investigation of what obsession for...

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Portions of The Magnificent Ambersons, especially the first chapter, were frequently anthologized. Tarkington's mildly satirical style...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Cournos, John, and Sybil Norton. Famous Modern American Novelists. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1952. Contains a brief biography of Tarkington and a useful synopsis of the Growth trilogy.

Fennimore, Keith J. Booth Tarkington. New York: Twayne, 1974. Perhaps the best book on Tarkington for the general reader, one that offers a good overview of the author and his novels, a useful chronology, and an excellent annotated bibliography. Emphasizes the interaction between the aristocrats and the upstarts in The Magnificent Ambersons.

Gray, Donald J. Introduction to The Magnificent Ambersons, by...

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