Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The use of Hal Brewton as the narrator in The Sea of Grass is extremely clever. He reminisces from the vantage point of being Salt Fork’s physician. He sees many changes in the nearly fifty years he lives there. He is the nephew of Colonel Jim Brewton, whose stoicism he admires, and hence he is sympathetic both to him and more gradually to Lutie, whose beauty captivates him. He is Brock’s cousin—nominally, at least—and therefore he narrates events in that conflicted youth’s short life with muted emotion. Best of all, since Conrad Richter chose to present a quarter century’s salient events in the lives of his triangle of central characters—Lutie, Brewton, and Brock—it is useful to have Hal periodically leave Salt Fork for schooling in the more settled East, so that, upon each return, he can observe dramatic changes and record them more emphatically. His objectivity, however, is tinged with melancholy; therefore his prose has lyric overtones, and his narration is often a kind of elegy. At the end of chapter 14, Hal imagines that Lutie is recalling Brock in her mind’s eye as a yellow-haired baby again, “in the candlelight of a world that had vanished like last year’s snow.” Richter, who was a well-read author, assuredly wants his readers to hear echoes in these lines of the fifteenth century French poet François Villon’s most famous line: “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” (But where are the snows of yesteryear?). Several critics have noted that Richter may also have been inspired to employ the kind of narrator he did by reading Willa Cather’s novel A Lost Lady (1923), the narrator and heroine of which are very much like those in The Sea of Grass.

This short novel is compactly structured, with three numbered parts of almost exactly equal lengths. Each part, however, has a different number of chapters, perhaps to indicate the fact that separate dramatic segments presented in them carry different weights of import. Part 1, “Lutie,” has five chapters; part 2, “The Colonel,” seven chapters; and part 3, “Brock,” three. Chapter 6, the shortest in the book, is also the most static. In it, Lutie leaves the town by train, and everyone else, including her husband, waits to see whether Brice Chamberlain will board it with her. However, nothing happens. The bleat of lambs in the shipping pen, though, reminds Hal of Lutie’s three abandoned children. Chapter 15, the...

(The entire section is 996 words.)