(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 464 words.)