Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

THE TIME OF MAN is a farm story that strikes a nice balance between the sordid and the romantic. Here readers have the life of the migrant Kentucky farmer as it is, unvarnished and plain. Deeper in the work, the reader sees the springs from which these people draw their strength. They lived in poverty, with little hope of security; but in their love for the soil and in their fierce independence, they find meaning for their lives. To call this novel a story of local color would be true but inadequate. The regionalism of THE TIME OF MAN is but a convenient frame for the depiction of human and enduring values.

In the novel, Elizabeth Madox Roberts draws on her own firsthand knowledge of poor rural whites in Kentucky—where she was born and reared—to present a stark portrait of impoverishment balancing between hope and despair. The tenant farmer’s lot has never been an easy one, but the field-workers and tenant farmers in Roberts’ novel appear in especially dire straits. For them, it seems that each small advance is followed by a setback twice as large. In those days before government welfare programs, sheer endurance was their only defense against misfortune.

The wellsprings of their endurance, however, derive from complex sources. For the easy assumption is that the poor work only because of need. Although necessity is indeed a compelling motivation, the characters in THE TIME OF MAN work for other reasons as...

(The entire section is 493 words.)