Much of the action of The Master of the Mill takes place within the mind of Samuel Clark, an old man in his eighties. Sam’s mind broods on the past, and the actions, events, and shifts in point of view follow no simple pattern. Only Sam’s own processes of association give coherence and unity to the whole. The mixture of reminiscing and reflecting makes the reading difficult, but worthwhile. By the end of the novel, it becomes evident to the reader that this complex and fragmented pattern not only traces but also reenacts Sam’s effort to work his life into a meaningful and significant pattern.
The novel opens with Sam looking out the windows of his home. Outside the window is the great mill, structured like a huge ancient pyramid. As Sam sees the mill, which towers over everything around it, he recognizes that the mill also towered over him and his every action. For the rest of the novel, he wonders how free he was to decide anything.
After the opening chapter, the novel oscillates between the present, 1939, and the past. Numerous specific episodes, actions, and people come to Sam’s mind, and as he recalls them, he wonders how they affected him. The key issue, however, is clear for Sam. He knows that, no matter how misunderstood he has been by others, he wished to master the mill and the community dependent upon it only for the betterment of mankind. He knows, however, that this hope was not realized. Whether that failure was...
(The entire section is 541 words.)