Form and Content
Through the Holbrook family, Yonnondio: From the Thirties tells the stories of working people in three states and at least as many forms of employment. In particular, the novel shows Mazie Holbrook approaching her teen years and simultaneously developing a consciousness of the injustices and perplexities of the world, ranging from violence to avarice. Mazie stands on the developmental threshold between childhood and young adulthood, the emotional threshold between hope and despair, and the artistic threshold between creating beauty and yielding to the forces that would preempt or corrupt such beauty.
Yonnondio, Tillie Olsen’s first novel, was published for the first time in 1974, but its writing was begun as early as 1932. At that time, Olsen hoped to unite her commitments as an artist and an activist by generating this socially conscious text. The novel’s opening chapter, “The Iron Throat,” originally appeared in Partisan Review in 1934. It is the only portion of the novel published when first written. Olsen completed the rest of the text in two stages spanning the intervening years. Therefore, the novel that she published in 1974 represents a painstaking reconstruction of text.
During the 1970’s, Olsen received a grant from the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ community, to attempt completion of her as yet unpublished novel. She resolved to assemble the novel entirely from extant manuscript pages, adding...
(The entire section is 489 words.)