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Wed, 9 Jun 2004

The Gentleman from Indiana

— SjG @ 4:41 pm

Booth Tarkington, 1899, from the Gutenberg Project, read as an e-book from BlackMask.com

A well told, if conventional, love story and tale of life in the emerging American Midwest. Tarkington is at his best when he shows the changing character of places as they transition from obscure hicksvilles into “modern” American cities. He writes with the optimism of the American west, seeing the good in the evolution of the towns and the improvement of the populations, all the while giving occasional sad nods to the passing of a slower, more formal time.
This particular book lacks particularly deep characters, but nevertheless delivers an interesting tale of educated East-Coast people and their impact on a small, southern Indiana town. These outsiders come into the community and immediately set about changing it with their college-educated form of intellectual imperialism. Yet though though they come in as a force of change, they too are changed, and become a inseparable parts of community themselves.
Tarkington, in this book, shows a clear belief in the intrinsic quality of people; it is not classist, per se, because there are good but ignorant people; it is not based on race, nor is it based overtly on religion. But there is a morality that underlies his characters, and a good character is Good with a capital G regardless of minor flaws, but a bad character is Bad, and probably irredeemable. It’s interesting, since we don’t really see a similar belief expressed in The Magnificent Ambersons; there we find far more ambiguity and subtlety, or at least a development and evolution of consciousness among the characters.

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