Slouching Towards Kalamazoo Summary
by Peter De Vries

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Slouching Towards Kalamazoo Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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Slouching Towards Kalamazoo is a comic novel set in North Dakota and Michigan. The key characters are Tony Thrasher, an underachieving fifteen-year-old, and his teacher, the voluptuous Maggie Doubloon. Tony has been held back in school because he neglects his studies in respectable subjects in order to read such challenging literary classics as John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), Dante Alighieri’s La divina commedia (c. 1320, The Divine Comedy, 1802), and James Joyce’s works. Maggie sets the town agog when she assigns The Scarlet Letter (1850); then, when a tutoring session with Tony results in a passionate fall and consequent pregnancy, she becomes another Hester Prynne.

Tony’s father is the town’s leading Christian, since he is its minister; Tony’s mother is a homemaker. The news that Tony has impregnated his teacher is a shock. His mother’s attachment to her dermatologist (“the Curator”) unexpectedly blooms into love, and when the atheist doctor is converted to Christianity in a debate with Tony’s father, she divorces her husband and marries her doctor. Divorce was inevitable: Her husband was also converted—to atheism, while debating against the dermatologist. No Christian could possibly remain in such a marriage, so the family is dissolved.

Two years later, Tony makes his way to Kalamazoo, ambiguous in his purpose and uncertain of his goals. Maggie is getting rich selling T-shirts emblazoned with a scarlet A+ on the breast. Her grandfather, Ahab Stubblefield, ventured the capital for her business. It has become so successful that she has hired a nanny, Bubbles Breedlove, to care for little Ahab, as she named the child she conceived with Tony. Since Grandfather Stubblefield wants a secretary, Maggie hires Tony. He is once again in a family, but this time an unusual one. His life becomes truly complicated when he falls for Bubbles while still wanting to do right by Maggie and little Ahab.

Tony’s secretarial work turns out to involve shovels, gutters, and other repair projects around the Stubblefield home. After a summer he returns to high school with his mother and stepfather. There he learns that the earlier double conversions are slowly coming undone, leaving his mother in the difficult position of once again being married to the wrong man. He plots to have his father and the doctor debate again, hoping each will reverse the other’s conversion.

Grandfather Stubblefield is also plotting: Not knowing of Tony’s paternal history, he wants to pair the young man up with Bubbles, whose widowed father from Idaho has begun to court Maggie. Although Tony’s plot fails to reunite his parents, since the rematched opponents merely undo half of their conversions, so that both become “Christian atheists,” Tony and Maggie each find a perfect match in the appropriate members of the Breedlove family.