Morris, Wright (Vol. 1)

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Morris, Wright 1910–

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American novelist, winner of the National Book Award, 1957. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

Many reviewers and critics who have long been impressed with Wright Morris rank him high among serious novelists. Some believe he is one of America's few finest writers, certainly one of her most original…. In view of this critical acclaim … it is difficult to account for the fact that he is one of the most neglected writers of our time.

Why the neglect? [There are] certain features of his novels which tend to frustrate even the most literate reader. Why is there so little action or narrative? Why is it so difficult to acclimatize oneself to Morris' seemingly simple style so that one knows what he is talking about? For instance, why the use of so many sentence fragments, and especially the conscious use of so many clichés? Why the techniques that require such effort from the reader and seem to be appropriated from Joyce, Woolf, and James, although, admittedly, adapted to Morris' own purpose? Why isn't he clearer as to whether his attitude is one of satire, irony, paradox, comedy, burlesque, or tragedy? Is he as nihilistic as he appears? Is he nostalgic for or nauseated by Nebraska and the view of America he sees there? (p. 7)

It is as true of Morris as it is of Faulkner that full appreciation and understanding require a thorough reading of all the novels, which are connected by a single vision and design; each book evolves organically out of preceding ones; and his short stories and articles explore aspects of this development. (p. 8)

The composite landscapes—inscapes as well, in a sense, since place shapes character in Morris' field of vision—form a single locale: the Nebraska plains, the navel of the world…. (pp. 17-18)

One senses in Morris' novels the abiding presence of his Nebraska childhood. That the dust caked his teeth, that the wind lashed his youth, his characters are not allowed to forget. That he spent only his first nine years on the Great Plains attests to the immensity of their effect upon him. (p. 25)

It is necessary to point out that Morris is neither a regionalist nor a local colorist. While the Great Plains provide vivid counterparts for every aspect of his work, even in what might be called the urban novels, Morris renders the past only in its effects on the present; and he writes about Nebraska only as it represents conflicting extremes in American land and character. (pp. 25-6)

What is Morris' field of vision? Bringing into focus a representative part of America, he has sought the meaning of the legends, myths, and realities of America as they survive and prevail today in the minds of common men; the uncommon exist for the edification of the common. (p. 28)

On the arid plains, man may have achieved intuitively a kind of existential knowledge. Where he [confronts] nature stripped to essentials and is forced to live on essentials alone, man, reduced to what he is, standing on the frontiers within—often as empty as a private Hiroshima—must face sooner or later the imperfections of his dreams, and end in either suicide or stoic endurance—the Kierkegaardian gambit. Destructive and creative, rather than ethical, forces are loose in Morris' world. He does not seem to cast blame. How does one blame a cyclone or a dust storm, or the land for being flat and obdurate? (p. 30)

Drawing heavily from the store of memory common to the first five novels in which Will Brady is prefigured in Dudley, Will Ward, and Will Muncy, The Works of Love is a symbolic narrative that gives mythic expression to most of the previous themes and elements. Although some critics regard this book as a failure, I agree with those who feel it is one of Morris' most convincing.

The Works of Love is a pivotal volume in the author's grapple with his raw material and his developing sense of craft…. [This work] is...

(The entire section contains 3422 words.)

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