Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

As the third novel in a trilogy on early American life, The Town completes the story of Sayward Luckett Wheeler, her husband Portius, and their nine children. It depicts the settlement and growth of a town and describes the way of life experienced by the families who live and work in that period of American history when the frontier was closing down. In this historical novel, Conrad Richter gives sharp details about the everyday life and possessions of the early settlers. He uses authentic speech and describes their food, clothing, tableware, and furniture. Even accounts of medical practices and methods of printing are woven into the family experiences. Richter gives descriptions to fit each era of the trilogy, and much of the interest and warmth of the story comes from these ordinary aspects of daily life.

In addition to its value as history, The Town is also a commentary on progress and civilization. It compares the past, as in the Luckett’s early years on the Ohio frontier, with the present in the town of Americus, Ohio. As participants in and builders of the new town, Sayward and the other oldtimers wonder if the “easy life” they now have is really advancement or if it is the opposite—a demoralizing situation. The radical opinion, which Sayward’s youngest son Chancey holds, is that pioneer times were brutal and wild and that true progress should continue. As times change, labor will not be necessary, and peace and happiness will flourish in a life of ease. Many of the discussions in the book concern the validity of each of these opposing ideas.

Richter, the son of a minister, was born in 1890 in Pennsylvania. At age fifteen, he finished high school and began a succession of jobs which included being a clerk, a farm laborer, and a county correspondent. He also reported on the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Journal, and by age nineteen he was the editor of the weekly Courier at Patton, Pennsylvania. From there he went on to report for daily newspapers and then worked as a private secretary in Cleveland, where he sold his first fiction story.

In 1928 Richter moved to the West and began collecting materials on early American life. Not satisfied with his research into original sources, early rare books, newspapers, and manuscripts, he found and talked to early pioneers who were still alive. His lengthy visits with them provided much of the historical detail for his novels.

Richter published his first book in 1924, BROTHERS OF NO KIN AND OTHER STORIES. During his lifetime, he wrote approximately twenty-five books and published his last, THE ARISTOCRAT, shortly before his death in 1968. In...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)