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Pat Conroy 1945–

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American novelist and nonfiction writer.

Conroy is the author of The Water Is Wide (1972), a factual account of his teaching experience with disadvantaged black children, and of two autobiographical novels, The Great Santini (1976) and The Lords of Discipline (1980). The latter novels are strongly influenced by Conroy's Southern upbringing and his close association with military life. All three of Conroy's works have been made into films.

Conroy wrote The Water Is Wide to expose the injustice of his dismissal from his teaching position on Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina, where he felt he was making significant improvements in the lives of his students despite opposition to his untraditional methods. Although the book is laden with the cynicism which resulted from his clash with school administrators, Conroy also accepts blame for his self-righteous attitude and for losing his chance to oversee the development of young people. It has been suggested that the book is an indictment of those members of Conroy's generation who rigidly followed their ideals at the expense of achieving their goals. The Water Is Wide was the basis for the 1974 film Conrack.

The Great Santini is the story of a Marine fighter pilot and his family and revolves around his relationship with his eldest son. The father, who called himself "The Great Santini" after his war exploits, makes no distinction between military life and family life, and he dominates his wife and children. As in his first book, Conroy wrote The Great Santini partly to purge himself of negative emotions, in this case those concerning his father. Conroy discovered the love between his father and himself which had been overshadowed by hatred since Conroy's childhood. The tension between these two emotions is at the center of The Great Santini.

The Lords of Discipline takes place during a cadet's senior year at a military college. The setting is based on The Citadel, a prestigious Southern military school which Conroy attended. Conroy again explores the power struggles and viciousness which can make military life brutal, even during times of peace. Critics found The Lords of Discipline realistic and effective in its emotional impact.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88 and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 6.)

Anatole Broyard

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He's not much of a stylist and his sense of humor needs work, but Pat Conroy has a nice, wry perspective and a wholehearted commitment to his job. It's a hell of a job and "The Water Is Wide" is a hell of a good story….

Why did Pat Conroy want to go to Yamacraw [Island]? Because he was young and ambitious and he loved teaching. Even more important, he was a do-gooder, enveloped in a "roseate, dawn-like and nauseating glow" at the masochistic prospect of accepting a job in which the odds were all against him. A former redneck and self-proclaimed racist, he brought to Yamacraw the supererogatory fervor of the recently converted.

Mr. Conroy's first job was to prove to his pupils that learning could, and should, be fun. His theory of pedagogy held "that the teacher must always maintain an air of insanity, or of eccentricity out of control, if he is to catch and hold the attention of his students." He believed in "teacher dramatics, gross posturings and frenzied excesses to get a rise out of deadhead, thought-killed students…." Two things he did not realize were that his students would take his antics literally and that they could hardly understand a word he said. Nor could he understand them at first, because they spoke a local version of the Gullah dialect.

Mr. Conroy's modesty will not allow him to claim much for his year at Yamacraw, but he did get his pupils to listen to Beethoven and Brahms by alternating them with James Brown. He also opened their minds to an outer world they had never even conceived of. And,...

(The entire section contains 4750 words.)

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