Wendell Berry Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Can Wendell Berry be considered a “spiritual” writer despite his disavowal of formal Christianity?

What are the larger thematic implications of the biblical allusion in the title “Pray Without Ceasing”? How does Berry handle the themes of redemption and repentance in the story?

Why does Thad Coulter shoot Ben Feltner? Why does Mat Feltner not avenge his father’s death?

How does “Pray Without Ceasing” fit into the thematic and narrative structure of Fidelity? What are the implications of the title of that short-story collection? “Fidelity” to what?

How is Berry’s southern Agrarian orientation reflected in his agricultural and cultural essays in The Gift of Good Land?

What is the role of women in Berry’s agrarian world? What is Berry’s view of marriage? How is that view reflected in the poems of The Country of Marriage?

Is Berry regional vision ultimately nostalgic or elegiac? Does he witness the passing of an older order or celebrate a legacy of enduring agrarian values? Is it significant that most of his stories are set before World War II? What began to happen to the small family farm after the war?

Other Literary Forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Wendell Berry has published widely in most major genres—poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction prose (notably the essay) as well as long fiction. In addition to his novels and novellas, Berry is the author of several short-story collections and additional short stories about the Port William Membership. He has also published essay collections, nonfiction works, and numerous volumes of poetry.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The author of more than forty books, Wendell Berry has been the recipient of many honorary degrees and writing awards, including the T. S. Eliot Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, and the John Hay Award of the Orion Society.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to poetry, Wendell Berry has written nonfiction, fiction, essays, and a biography of Harland Hubbard. He has also been the subject of numerous published interviews.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Wendell Berry first achieved regional and then national prominence as a poet, essayist, and novelist who writes about the small farmers of his fictional Port William community in northern Kentucky. As a poet, Berry has published widely since 1957, in small magazines, poetry volumes, private printings, and collections of his verse in 1985 and 1998. He won the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine (1967), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1971), the Jean Stein Award in Nonfiction (1987), the Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry (1994), the T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing from the Ingersoll Foundation (1999), the Thomas Merton Award (1999), and the Poets’ Prize (2000). His major topics are the land, the family, and the community, especially the way that each has been affected by greed and indifference. Berry is a deeply traditional poet in theme and form, celebrating a timeless agrarian cycle of planting and harvest. He affirms a strong sense of place and ancestral inheritance, stemming from local family ties stretching back almost two centuries. His values are a curious blend of conservative and radical, combining a strong commitment to marriage and family with a pacifist stance and criticism of corporate exploitation of rural Appalachia. His voice is that of the farmer-poet, husband, father, and lover. For many readers and critics, he has reached the stature of a major contemporary philosopher.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Altherr, Thomas L. “The Country We Have Married: Wendell Berry and the Georgian Tradition of Agriculture.” Southern Studies 1 (Summer, 1990): 105-115. Examines the influence of Vergil’s Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589) on Berry’s treatment of agriculture.

Angyal, Andrew J. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995. Introductory work provides a brief biography of the author as well as critical interpretation of his fiction. Includes chronology, bibliography, and index.

Basney, Lionel. “Having Your Meaning at Hand: Work in Snyder and Berry.” In Word, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the Jubilation of Poets, edited by Leonard M. Trawick. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990. Discusses Berry’s early volumes as articulating a work ethic that is rooted in a person’s interaction with a particular place, with a sense of community, and with an uneasy Christian sacramental vision.

Cornell, Daniel. “The Country of Marriage: Wendell Berry’s Personal Political Vision.” Southern Literary Journal 16 (Fall, 1983): 59-70. Through a close reading of the poems in The Country of Marriage, Cornell offers a thoughtful examination of the thematic implications of Berry’s pastoral metaphors. Cornell locates Berry within an agrarian populist tradition that defies conventional conservative or liberal labels.

Freeman, Russell G. Wendell Berry: A...

(The entire section is 666 words.)