Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

REMEMBRANCE ROCK, a first novel published when its writer was seventy, is a work almost as sprawling and formless as the land it celebrates. The pattern is simple: three stories dealing with the settling of Plymouth, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, set between a prologue and an epilogue which have for background Washington in the years of World War II. Imperfect as a novel, the book is nevertheless a great American document, presenting in human terms and in the idiom of Carl Sandburg’s “swift and furious people” the growth of the American Dream through more than three centuries of our national history. REMEMBRANCE ROCK has been called a saga, a chronicle, a sermon, a collection of Chaucerian tales, a miscellany on folk themes; and it is all of these. By means of fable, paean, symbol, and style that ranges from the grave, proud language of Bunyan and Defoe to the downright slangy and boisterous, Sandburg has projected a poet historian’s testament of American life. The result is a narrative as passionate and affirmative as the tough and mystic eloquence of his poetry. Unity of theme is provided by characters recurring in the major episodes and by symbolic reappearances of a bronze plaque bearing an inscription of Roger Bacon’s Four Stumbling Blocks to Truth. First, the influence of fragile or unworthy authority; second, custom; third, the imperfection of undisciplined senses; and fourth, concealment of ignorance by ostentation of seeming wisdom.

Sandburg devoted five years to writing the book, his only novel. With his accustomed diligence, he researched the general social background of the Pilgrims, both in England and America; of the Revolutionary period from 1775-1777; and of the pre-Civil War era up to the death of Lincoln, roughly 1836-1865. Sandburg’s research, however, was not intended to treat actual history, as he does in the Lincoln biographies; instead, he was concerned with the spiritual heritage of the people. To be sure, real historical figures and events crowd the pages of the novel; yet the major characters are clearly of heroic proportions—the creations of myth, not fact. To provide a “frame” for his...

(The entire section is 892 words.)