Wright Morris Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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How does the tension between past and present create conflict in Wright Morris’s fiction?

How does Morris use fiction to create a sense of time and place?

How do photography and fiction commingle in his photo-texts?

Why does Morris use multiple narrative techniques in his work?

Many of his characters struggle to come to grips with experience (for example, Charlie Munger, Lois McKee, Cora Atkins, Tom Scanlon). How does Morris use such characters to develop themes in his fiction?

Many of Morris’s novels are comic. How does he create humor in his fiction?

Morris has been called one of America’s most original writers. What is original or novel in the way he creates fiction?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In a career that began in 1942, Wright Morris has published everything but plays and poems. Known primarily as a novelist, he is also a photographer and has created books of photographs such as The Inhabitants (1946), with accompanying text, which present his view of the artifacts of American lives. He has even incorporated his photographs into a novel, The Home Place (1948). He is an essayist, offering his interpretations of literature and culture in general in works such as The Territory Ahead (1958, 1963). The first fifty years of Morris’s life are examined in A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life (1985). He has also published Time Pieces: Photographs, Writing, and Memory (1989), a nonfiction work.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though often compared to Midwestern writers such as Sherwood Anderson and Willa Cather, Wright Morris is hardly a mere regionalist. He has written about all sections of the United States and many parts of Mexico and Europe. What most distinguishes his fiction is a distinctly original American writing style rooted in the vernacular and a consistently amused response to the efforts of his characters to cope with the daily reality of an increasingly complex world. Frequently categorized as unfairly unheralded, Morris has been given many honors by the literary establishment. The Field of Vision (1956) received the National Book Award, and Plains Song, for Female Voices (1980) won the American Book Award. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1970 and was made an honorary fellow of the Modern Language Association in 1975 and a senior fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1976. He won the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 1979 and the Robert Kirsch Award of The Los Angeles Times in 1981. Morris’s most notable achievement is the consistent quality of his writing. He is one of the few American authors to have written as well after he turned fifty as he did before.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Several of Wright Morris’s books, including The Inhabitants (1946), God’s Country and My People (1968), and Love Affair: A Venetian Journal (1972), are photo-texts. They feature photographs accompanied by brief prose passages. In the first of these, Morris describes the “inhabitants” of the United States from coast to coast through photographs of their structures—buildings that have affected the “indwellers.” Pictures of porch fronts in the West, for example, reveal New England influences, as do the inhabitants of the dwellings. The photographs, although not synchronized with the text, appear on facing pages and combine with it to make a larger statement than would be possible from either medium used alone—a statement about America and its people and their place in the changing world. Fences, privies, and churches are among the other artifacts pictured on unnumbered pages and bearing a poetic relationship to the human characters described in the text; it is up to the reader to determine the truths thereby conveyed.

God’s Country and My People, more autobiographical yet less nostalgic than its predecessors, suggests present-day values and their usefulness to a later generation. Love Affair , utilizing color photographs taken in Venice in 1969, presents the problem of “shouting” that everything is...

(The entire section is 2,062 words.)