Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Plains Song, for Female Voices has been called a feminist novel; it is that and more. It presents, in Sharon, a woman of principles who forges her own identity, never even considering the conventional existence into which she could so easily settle, yet the novel avoids the clichés of sexual politics. Morris’s women are recognizable human beings, not types illustrating this pathetic, or that heroic, behavior.

Morris, the least didactic of novelists, is especially interested in all of his books with the relationship of place and character. The Ohio-born Cora becomes the essence of the Nebraska plains; she and her farm are inseparable entities. The farm molds her personality just as much as she controls it. Sharon, on the other hand, rejects the plains because it dominates its inhabitants: “It seemed incomprehensible to Sharon that people continued to live in such places. Numbed by the cold, drugged by the heat and the chores, they were more like beasts of the field than people.”

The home place, however, is an intrinsic part of an American’s character and can never be completely ignored because of the tenacious hold of the past on American lives. At the end of the novel, Sharon realizes how much the past is a part of her: “Whatever life held in the future for her, it would prove to reside in this rimless past, approaching and then fading like the gong of a crossing bell.” The inescapable influence of the past adds some irony to Morris’s portrayal of Sharon’s independence, for it is her plains upbringing which has created her desire to be different.

Failed and compromised American dreams are a frequent concern in Morris’s fiction. Emerson and Orion pursue the dream west but fail to realize it. Even with Cora’s help, they make but a minimal living from their farm, succeeding only in producing daughters who produce granddaughters to whom their agrarian heritage is meaningless. Only Sharon successfully pursues the American Dream, ironically by moving farther and farther east.