Mary Gordon Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What evidence is there in Mary Gordon’s work of her Roman Catholic background?

How do the themes of guilt and redemption appear in Gordon’s works?

How does the theme of forgiveness function in Gordon’s works?

How does Gordon characterize a good marriage? A destructive marriage?

What difficulties does Gordon point out in the relationships between mothers and daughters?

Gordon’s novels often show a close relationship between a well-meaning but domineering man, perhaps a father or a priest, and a younger girl or woman. To what extent are these relationships beneficial? When do they become destructive?

Gordon’s novels are often open-ended. What do you think would happen to her characters in the future?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Gordon has been most recognized for her novels. Final Payments (1978), The Company of Women (1980), and Men and Angels (1985) all received praise for her examination of themes concerning women, Roman Catholicism, and art. Gordon has also published essays and a personal memoir of her father.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Gordon received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize from the University of Rochester for Final Payments in 1979 and for The Company of Women in 1981.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Mary Gordon has built her literary reputation as a novelist, she has published numerous short stories and essays in such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, Commonweal, and Redbook. Some of her short stories have been collected in the volumes Temporary Shelter (1987) and The Stories of Mary Gordon (2006). Among Gordon’s works of nonfiction are Good Boys and Dead Girls, and Other Essays (1991), a collection of essays about literature and social commentary, and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity (2000), which reveals information about events in Gordon’s personal life that have influenced much of her fiction. Her biographical works include Joan of Arc (2000) and two biographies of her parents: The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father (1996), which chronicles Gordon’s search for her father’s past; and Circling My Mother (2007), the story of her painful and conflicted relationship with her mother. Gordon frequently contributes book reviews to such periodicals as The Nation and The New York Times Book Review.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mary Gordon’s first novel, Final Payments, received enthusiastic reviews, and critics hailed Gordon as an important American Catholic writer. She has been compared to her literary idols, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, in her precision of perception and her depiction of the reflective and emotional lives of her characters. In 1979 for Final Payments and again in 1981 for The Company of Women, Gordon won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction. She has also received the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her biography Joan of Arc earned the O. B. Hardison Award, which is presented by the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies. Gordon’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies and have earned numerous prizes, including an O. Henry Award in 1997. She was named a State Author of New York, 2008-2010, by the New York State Writers’ Institute.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Becker, Brenda L. “Virgin Martyrs.” The American Spectator 14 (August, 1981): 28-32. This is a stringent but not unfriendly discussion of Gordon’s first two novels. Becker praises depictions of female friendships and the workings of the Catholic Church but faults her for her heavy-handed symbolism and her portrayals of men.

Corrigan, Maureen. “Spending: A Utopian Divertimento.” The Nation (March 16, 1998): 29-32. In this review of Gordon’s work, Corrigan sees the steamy sexuality of this novel’s narrator as a reaction to her earlier models of Catholic guilt. She praises her humor and her sharp portrayal of the artist’s vision, but she faults the central theme, which she compares with a Harlequin romance.

Dwyer, June. “Unappealing Ethnicity Meets Unwelcoming America: Immigrant Self-Fashioning in Mary Gordon’s Temporary Shelter.” Melus 22 (Fall, 1997): 103-112. Despite the forbidding title and a rather ponderous introduction, this essay is a thoughtful examination of conflicts inherent in the immigrant experience: Immigrants must face the realities of their new country while they must also confront the dominant culture’s images of them. Most of the discussion concerns the Nora stories in this collection.

Gordon, Mary. “An Interview with Mary Gordon.” Interview by Sandy Asirvatham. Poets and Writers (July/August, 1997): 50-61. This meaty interview focuses on Gordon’s work methods and influences. It includes some brief analysis of her novels and gives more detailed attention to the significance of her discoveries about her father.

Johnston, Eileen Tess. “The Biblical Matrix of...

(The entire section is 739 words.)