Themes and Meanings
Lee K. Abbott’s unique story is about the fall of a local hero in a corrupt world. Dillon Ripley embodies the high moral standards of the Deming Country Club; indeed, his old-fashioned passion and reverence for golf as an ancient rite of passage make him a modern hero. He sees himself in an idealized form as “slender and tanned and strong as iron, a hero wise and blessed as those from Homer himself.” Once he is betrayed by Allie Martin, his friend and guide, and his beloved wife, Jimmie, he enters the fallen world that literally and metaphorically breaks his heart. More important, the corruption of the Edenic country club takes place at the fourteenth hole—Ripley’s Valley of Sin—where Allie and Jimmie appear in adulterous embrace, scandalizing the entire community. Their sin desecrates a hallowed place, a location that hitherto symbolized the highest spiritual ideals of both Ripley and his faithful entourage. His three golfing companions—Watts, Phinizy, and Poot—function as a Greek chorus commenting on the consequences of that terrible fall into reality. Abbott describes Ripley as a general and attributes to him many of the characteristics of a Homeric hero; however, his heroism is not demonstrated in his golf game. Rather, it consists in his ability to mythologize the game of golf and reconnect it with its ancient origins. His use of archaic terms such as “passion and weal,” “enchantments,” and “bliss and bane,” and the ways that he applies them to golf, revivify and reestablish ancient energies to the game by which Ripley lives his life. Once Ripley’s spiritual fall takes place—and Ripley is mythically connected to that particular location—the place itself begins to show signs of its own imminent collapse. It begins to take on the look of a wasteland, and messages of its corruption begin to appear at the place of sacrilege, the fourteenth hole. Tommy Steward, “fuzzy-minded on red-dirt marijuana,” believes that he sees the physical manifestation of evil appear as a demoniac figure at the very place that he is necking with a girl, who is named, aptly, Eve.