Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Prince of Tides begins with a prologue and ends with an epilogue that frame this three-generational family saga. The story’s opening setting is located in the deceptively placid marshland and coastal islands near the fictional town of Colleton, South Carolina. The pace of this long, complex novel at times moves as slowly as the gradual ebb of the tides in the sleepy, rural South. At other times, especially when the setting shifts to New York City, the story’s pace is punctuated with the frantic and relentless recollections of the violence and calamities that have tainted and tortured the Wingo family.

Tom Wingo, the first-person narrator of the Wingo family history, is the family’s voice. In contrast to his older brother, Luke, and his twin sister, Savannah, Tom has survived childhood and adolescence traumas of emotional and physical parental abuse. A college graduate and churchgoing citizen, he appears to be the sole member to escape the inherent madness of his family lineage.

Tom introduces his parents, whose lives have been interrupted and scarred by poverty, family separations during World War II, and cycles of family dysfunction. His father, a shrimp boat operator whom Tom maintains would have been a splendid father had it not been for his violent treatment of his wife and children, was himself abused as a child. Tom describes his mother as a beautiful woman, talented at weaving words descriptive of natural beauty, but mum about a host of horrific family secrets.

The first chapter of this pain-filled family memoir begins like a Greek epic, in the middle of things, with a phone call to Tom from his mother. Savannah, who fled the family chaos and sought refuge and family anonymity in New York...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The form of The Prince of Tides is that of multiple stories within a story. Conroy employs the voice and methods of a poet and a...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The very massiveness of Conroy's novel, at more than 500 pages, offers a tremendous focus for discussion. Within those pages exist not only...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Prince of Tides, Conroy closely examines the effect of one's past upon one's life through his main character, Tom Wingo. Forced...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Prince of Tides reflects its heritage of traditional Southern Gothic, featuring the macabre as well as the divine. Conroy's...

(The entire section is 239 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Prince of Tides is closely related to The Great Santini (1976). Both novels share the same themes of family and abuse, and...

(The entire section is 245 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The adaptation of The Prince of Tides (1991) to film probably remains the most famous movie to grow from any of Conroy's novels. This...

(The entire section is 83 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Burns, Landon. C. Pat Conroy: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. The first full-length study of Conroy’s work. Chapter 6 provides a detailed study of the novel’s plots, characters, and themes.

Toolan, David. “The Unfinished Boy and His Pain: Rescuing the Young Hero with Pat Conroy,” Commonweal 118, no. 4 (February 22, 1991): 127-131. Brief analysis of Conroy’s works, with emphasis on the way Conroy’s rejection of Catholicism influenced his writing and a discussion of each protagonist’s attempt to find purpose in life.

York, Lamar. “Pat Conroy’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Southerner.” Southern Literary Journal 19 (1987): 37-46. Argues that Conroy’s first four works function as autobiographies of a writer.