Wright Morris Long Fiction Analysis
A novelist who has been read more—and surely appreciated more—in Europe than in his own country, Wright Morris explored the legacies of heroism and nostalgia, the dreams and delusions examined by earlier twentieth century American writers. Another concern of Morris, whose novels seldom display violence, is the rise of violence in America. His narratives often take place within a twenty-four-hour time period, suggesting the capture of a finite period of time as the photographer captures a finite space with a camera. This limitation of time unifies Morris’s novels, which are more intimately related by the device of recurring characters. Indeed, David Madden and other critics have suggested that one must read Morris’s entire canon in order to understand any one novel.
The spirit of place, whether it be the central plains, a California beach, a Philadelphia suburb, or an Alpine château, is central to Morris’s novels, and the impingement of objects or places upon humanity a major facet of Morris’s imagination, as they had been to James, who believed that places gave out a “mystic meaning.” Admittedly influenced by James and by D. H. Lawrence, Morris was his own man for five prolific decades. Fortunate to have as his birthplace the “navel of the universe,” the central United States, from that vantage point he “salvaged” meaningful artifacts that represent an earlier American life and, concomitantly, the values of that life.
Accused by critic Alfred Kazin of overloading his fiction with symbols, Morris disavowed any conscious symbolic creation, noting that symbols may appear without the author’s deliberate intent in any good work of fiction. Obsessed by the cliché, which he considered a dead repository for something once alive, he peopled his fiction with stereotypes and challenged himself to bring them back to life. Wayne Booth described Morris’s transformation of clichés as “toying” with them. David Madden saw the characters’ coming to terms with clichés as absolutely essential to their knowledge of the enjoyment of love, sex, their bodies—even of travel. He added that after Morris, clichés are never the same, because they are killed and resurrected in the same moment, reappearing in an improved form.
It is not easy to generalize about an oeuvre as varied as Morris’s, but his works frequently disregard chronology, an attempt to possess time and understand it being one of his obsessions. A recurring relationship, as Madden pointed out, is that of the hero and his “witnesses”—the characters who are transformed because their lives have intersected his. The contact, strangely enough, is often more meaningful after the death of the hero. Booth noted that the novels of Morris begin with a problem or a misunderstanding and conclude with a solution or a clarification. While this statement could be made about most plots, it is not the beginnings and the endings that occupy Morris’s inventive mind, but what is in between. The resolutions that he works toward require especially appropriate intervening incidents that require “a lot of doing.” Morris, added Booth, approaches his introductions not as promises to the reader but as problems to be solved by the author himself. What is important in this kind of plot progression is the quality of the middle, and here Morris excels.
Believing that the fiction writer must do more than reproduce facts, Morris transmuted his raw material, particularly his experience of the Midwest, through his imagination into something that he saw as more real than life itself.
My Uncle Dudley
My Uncle Dudley , Morris’s somewhat autobiographical first novel, concerns an odyssey in an old Marmon touring car from California to the banks of the Mississippi. The central character, Uncle Dudley, a cross between a modern-day Odysseus and Don Quixote, describes himself as a “horseless knight.” His impossible dream of committing one single audacious act is realized when he...
(The entire section is 4,206 words.)