What Are People For?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

WHAT ARE PEOPLE FOR? reflects Wendell Berry’s belief that we are all responsible for the welfare of planet Earth. Berry, a university professor and Kentucky farmer, defends America’s rural landscape and its farmers at a time when it seems to him that only economists and agribusiness dictate the way in which the land is to be used--and more frequently, according to Berry, abused. Many of the essays in this collection not only examine individuals’ relationship to the land on which they live, and from which they at least indirectly take their nourishment, but also call for a personal commitment of time and energy to stopping the damage that is done in the name of “progress.”

Berry fears that most Americans have lost their connection to the land on which they live; this self-imposed ignorance both worries and angers him. Berry writes with a strong, forceful voice: These essays clearly reflect his personality and his unflagging dedication to the land. Some of the solutions he offers exemplify his love of simplicity and his desire to remain close to the land; he explains that he will not use a word processor because it would consume more energy than the tool it would replace, the pencil. To use such a machine would only add to the energy and resource drain already imposed on the planet. Berry also examine the work of writers and philosophers such as Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, whom he admires, and in several essays he explores the nature of writing.

Readers interested in environmental issues, natural history, or the politics of farming will find Berry’s essays thought-provoking, timely, and challenging in their approach to issues central to the contemporary American way of life.


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Angyal, Andrew J. Wendell Berry. New York: Twayne, 1995. Best analysis of Berry’s life, ideas, poetry, fiction, and essays to date, with excellent bibliography of writings by and about Berry.

Berry, Wendell. The Long-Legged House. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1965. His initial collection of essays, critical of strip mining and the Vietnam War, which established the themes of his later essays.

Berry, Wendell. The Way of Ignorance. Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. Berry’s most recent collection of essays, continuing themes of community and nature and addressing constitutional issues generated by responses to terrorism.

Cornell, Robert. “The Country of Marriage: Wendell Berry’s Personal Political Vision.” Southern Literary Review 16 (Fall, 1983): 59-70.

Ditsky, John. “Wendell Berry: Homage to the Apple Tree.” Modern Poetry Studies 2, no. 1 (1971): 7-15.

Freyfogle, Eric. “The Dilemma of Wendell Berry.” University of Illinois Law Review 1994 (2): 363-385.

Goodrich, Janet. The Unforseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. Goodrich looks at the five personae of Berry—autobiographer, poet, farmer, prophet, and neighbor—as they are expressed in his poems, stories, and essays.

Hass, Robert. “Wendell Berry: Finding the Land.” Modern Poetry Studies 2, no. 1 (1971): 16-38.

Hicks, Jack. “Wendell Berry’s Husband to the World: A Place on Earth.” American Literature 51 (May, 1979): 238-254.

Merchant, Paul, ed. Wendell Berry. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1991.

Morgan, Speer. “Wendell Berry: A Fatal Singing.” Southern Review 10 (October, 1974): 865-877.

Nibbelink, Herman. “Thoreau and Wendell Berry: Bachelor and Husband of Nature.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 84 (Spring, 1985): 127-140.

Pevear, Richard. “On the Prose of Wendell Berry.” Hudson Review 35 (Summer, 1982): 341-347.

Smith, Kimberly K. Wendell Berry and the Agrarian Tradition: A Common Grace. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

Smith, Kimberly K. “Wendell Berry’s Feminist Agrarianism.” Women’s Studies 30 (2001): 623-646.

Trachtman, Paul. “Berry Wendell.” Smithsonian 36, no. 8 (November, 2005): 54-56. A profile of Berry, who farms 125 acres in Connecticut with his family. His philosophical outlook is discussed.