The Religious Society of Friends was nicknamed Quakers because they believe that inspiration comes from an inner light, often accompanied by trembling. The nickname was also intended to impugn Quaker objections to war, the implication being that the Quakers quake at confrontation. Their literary image is generally positive, if limiting. They tend to appear as kindly and gentle; their mistreatment is the most constant theme.
Caroline Dale Snedeker has written on the sect’s socialist experiment in New Harmony, Indiana, in The Town of the Fearless (1931). Her Unchartered Ways (1935) pictures the persecutions of the Quakers by tyrannical Puritans, examining the religious beliefs that motivated colonial Quakers. Various books have been written portraying Quakers favorably for their involvement in the abolitionist movement. Novels by Ronald de Levington Kirkbridge describe the lives of one Quaker family as they move from Pennsylvania, the heartland of their religion, to South Carolina. Works such as these describe a simple people who are dedicated to helping the less fortunate, who practice conscientious objection to war, and who observe a rural, family-centered way of life.
An influential work featuring a Quaker protagonist is Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark (1946), the story of a principled Pennsylvania Quaker who becomes wealthy. He never forgets his roots in religion, and his children react to his example in varying ways as they grow up in a modern world. This book shows the delicate balance that a Quaker attempts to maintain between being in the world but not of it. Another book, written by Elizabeth Emerson, The Good Crop (1946), treats a similar theme: A Quaker couple move their family of eleven children from Tennessee to Illinois in the nineteenth century. The most popular of books featuring Quaker characters is The Friendly Persuasion (1956) by Jessamyn West. This book of fourteen stories details the lives of an Indiana Quaker family, discussing the peculiar language and customs of the Birdwell family in a manner that helps the readers identify with them.