Points for a Compass Rose Critical Context - Essay

Evan S. Connell Jr.

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Points for a Compass Rose is an important statement about the troubled times in which it appeared and represents a reaction of a significant portion of the American people to their country’s involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. The work was published in 1973, a time when there was considerable and often anguished debate about the role which the United States had taken in Southeast Asia. Connell’s position on the matter is quite clear, but he moves beyond polemic and momentary relevance by connecting the American experience with those of other great powers— Rome, Spain, Great Britain.

In a sense, Connell is asking questions about the nature of national power and its use, about the role of the individual in a nation. Such concerns are hardly new for Connell, but his approach—a long, discursive “poem”—was certainly unique for the period in which it was written. In this light, Points for a Compass Rose both comments upon its own time and manages to move beyond it, because of the many links and connections it makes with history.

Points for a Compass Rose also reveals its author’s artistic interests and abilities at an exceptionally high level. All Connell’s writings demonstrate an awareness of other cultures and an interest in the quirks and wonders of human nature, but this intelligence is never showcased. In The Connoisseur (1974), for example, his knowledge and mastery of pre-Columbian art...

(The entire section is 426 words.)