Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Wright Morris is a highly respected author, the recipient of numerous prestigious awards as well as significant critical attention, yet his work seems not to have earned for him a large public. Despite its many virtues, most notably its emphasis on spirit and vision, his work is often seen as nebulous and lacking in drama. Perhaps his stature may always be overshadowed by the generation immediately preceding his own, the generation of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Works of Love is one of the author’s more admired works. Even here, however, the protagonist’s passivity and simpleness tend to make him a case history whose experiences confirm both the author’s view of the individual’s invincible loneliness and his belief that a redemptive ethic arises out of the negotiation of that loneliness. Not the least dubious aspect of this belief is its vagueness. The fact that the ethic cannot be socially mediated, as The Works of Love demonstrates, somewhat limits its credibility. In addition, since Will Brady is the ethic’s exemplar, he must also be a victim of loneliness.

Nevertheless, the author’s commitment to such concerns makes him at least as worthy of serious attention as some of the better-known but more callow members of his generation. This novel is also an excellent introduction to Wright Morris’s Nebraska, further accounts of which can be found in The Home Place (1948) and The Field of Vision (1956). As the author himself has remarked: “The Works of Love is . . . the linchpin in my novels concerned with the plains.” In his fidelity to spirit, and also to place, be it ever so humble, Wright Morris has added to one of the most distinguished genres of American imaginative prose.