Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 176 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

(The entire section is 81 words.)


(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 Booth Tarkington. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Provides a valuable overview of the novel as well as an overview of Tarkington’s prolific career. Claims that the author is less concerned with psychological than social realism.

Noe, Marcia. “Failure and the American Mythos: Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons.” Midamerica 15 (1988): 11-18. Contends that failure is a prominent theme in American literature and that this novel is Tarkington’s most thorough treatment of that theme. Holds that George’s failure as an aristocrat is an essential element in the novel in that it paves the way for his moral growth.

Woodress, James Leslie. Booth Tarkington: Gentleman from Indiana. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1955. An old but valuable biography that includes insightful analyses of the author’s plays as well as the novels. Highlights the importance of work as the foundation of Tarkington’s moral vision and the purifying power of a woman’s love in The Magnificent Ambersons.