(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Norwood contains the autobiographical elements so often found in a first novel. Norwood Pratt served in the Marine Corps, as did his creator. Norwood lives in Ralph, a little town in the northeastern corner of Texas, only a few miles from the Arkansas line. The protagonist travels to New York City, then returns home, completely unaltered by the many adventures he has had during his odyssey. The novel is set in the late 1950’s.

There are many suggestions of Voltaire’s Candide (1759) in the story line. Norwood is a lovable, optimistic innocent. He works at a gas station for which unpretentious would be the most charitable characterization. Like Candide with his Pangloss, Norwood lives in the same house as his mentor. His brother-in-law lives on disability checks from the Veterans Administration and spends his many hours of leisure spouting crack-brained philosophy. Norwood is a simple young man, both intellectually and in the sense that he is unaffected in the extreme. His ambitions are modest. He loves country music, and his life’s dream is to sing on the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport—he does not even aspire to the Grand Ole Opry.

Norwood’s motivation for leaving Ralph is modest as well. A buddy from Marine Corps days owes him seventy dollars. He believes his friend to be living in New York City, and he heads east to collect his money. At this point, the novel becomes picaresque. As he meanders around the country...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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