Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
While The Prince of Tides has clearly been Pat Conroy’s most popular success, a book widely read and hailed by the public, its critical reception has been mixed. Most of the negative criticism has centered on the novel’s ornate style and the melodramatic, sentimental, and implausible elements of the plot. Other critics, however, have celebrated it as a continuation of the southern gothic school and have praised the novel for its power, its excellent storytelling, and its affirmative conclusion. Pat Conroy has acknowledged working in the tradition of Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner, mentors whose achievements Conroy fails to reach in this novel. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile novel that has become firmly entrenched among popular fiction.
The Prince of Tides is Conroy’s fifth book; like all of its predecessors, it is set in coastal South Carolina and grows out of his own experiences. The Boo (1970), Conroy’s first book, is a memoir of a college teacher; The Water Is Wide (1972), alternately referred to as both nonfiction and as a novel, covers Conroy’s experiences teaching poverty-stricken black children on Daufuskie Island. With The Great Santini (1976), Conroy began revealing family secrets in fictional form. Lords of Discipline (1980) furthered Conroy’s move into fictionalized autobiography with its expose of the sexism, racism, and harsh discipline he experienced at the private school the Citadel. Both The Prince of Tides and Beach Music (1995) reflect Conroy’s continued use of autobiography in his fiction, though the latter contains less overt family history.