The Years with Ross Critical Context
by James Thurber

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Thurber is sometimes criticized for depicting characters that are two-dimensional and quite alike, a glittering but small gallery of “Thurber men” and “Thurber women.” In The Thurber Album (1952) and The Years with Ross, however, his characterizations both deepen and broaden. Crediting Thurber with a thoroughgoing portrait of Ross, Robert Morsberger nevertheless argues that the book consists “mainly of brilliant, fragmentary glimpses of the editor.” Richard Tobias maintains, though, that The Years with Ross is “an inevitable book, a final statement of all Thurber’s themes.” He argues that the portrait of Ross was anticipated in earlier pieces (Thurber himself maintained that King Clode in The White Deer, 1945, was loosely based on Ross, and he attempted a play about Ross in 1948). According to Tobias, there is nothing fragmentary about the portrait of Ross; it is a carefully constructed tableau, which represents an attempt on Thurber’s part to make of Ross a modern hero, “Walter Mitty in triumph.” Whether one sees a hero in Ross depends upon one’s own concept of heroism; what is probably indisputable about The Years with Ross, however, is its place in Thurber’s oeuvre as a compendium of things he did well.