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Dr. Joyce Kinkead on Exit
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

<<< Continued from previous page.   

The first love story involves Antonio Latour and Harriet Noel, who both have a fondness for acting.  Harriet desires to be a great actress, so she gives up Tony for the stage.  When Tony learns that she is to be married to her stage manager, Roy Donovan, who is worthless and sees his future wife as a money-maker, he returns to Orchard Hill though he is a successful actor.[1]  Harriet later discovers her husband's interest in her to be merely economic and devotes herself entirely to her son, Pierre Donovan.

            Harriet and Pierre continue to act on the stage after they are deserted by the stage manager, but she brings him, while still a boy, back to Orchard Hill where he can be reared in a wholesome, outdoors atmosphere (Exit, p. 60).  Upon her death Tony serves as guardian until Pierre becomes twenty when he will inherit money for his dramatic education.  Bruce Carey, Pierre's stepbrother and rival, also lives in Orchard Hill since his father deserted him, too, and sent him to Harriet.  Bruce marries Ann Bevis, adored by both Bruce and Pierre, and works in a bank as a clerk.  The couple live with her father, a bank teller, and take in Pierre, who works as a soda jerk until he can go to New York.  Both Ann's father and Bruce try to convince Pierre to invest his inheritance in a gold mine scheme in Nevada.  He almost agrees until Tony reads to him a play he wrote about what might happen if Pierre takes that course.  "The Play," which covers about two-thirds of the novel, is a story within a story, a rather artificial device.  In it, Bruce does convince Pierre to give him his tuition money and then robs and accidentally kills the cashier at the bank, leaving the blame on Ann's father.  He absconds to Nevada where he and Colorado Bill, actually Roy Donovan, try to find a gold mine.  Pierre, trying to help Ann and her father, goes after Bruce in the desert and finds the two men just as Donovan shoots Bruce (Exit, p. 259).  Pierre is determined to turn the older man over to the law, but when he finds out that he is his true father, he lets him try to get away in the desert.  Both men eventually reach town where Donovan confesses and Pierre dies.

            In the main part of the novel, Pierre keeps his money after hearing Tony's play, and he and Ann declare their love for each other though they realize the futility of it.  Pierre leaves for New York where he will undoubtedly become a great actor, the culmination of Tony and Harriet's desires.  The mother's presence is felt throughout the novel, for as she explains before her death, "They will not ring down the curtain when I speak my exit line and leave the stage . . . The audience will not applaud.  And the play will go on. . . . You will see me standing in the wings watching you" (Exit, p. 72).

            The actors of Orchard Hill do not care about the respect from the townspeople, which they do not have, because they are individualistic.  Tony Latour explains the actor's character:

            A person's life and character are one and the same thing.  A man lives what he is--he is what he lives.  And character, my dear, does not happen.  Character--that which a person really is--is the result of certain combinations of what I call life forces.  Love, hate, ambition, avarice, idealism, materialism, selfishness, generosity--all the elements which combine in different proportions to form different characters are the elements or forces of which life is made.  And these forces in various proportions enter into the making of each individual life always through other lives.  Whether by heredity or environment, we are made--our characters are formed, our individual lives are shaped by other lives, through which these life forces play upon us. (Exit pp. 106-107) 

The characters who desire to become actors and actresses are scorned by the "Orchard Hill standards of righteousness" (Exit, p. 24), for an actor "ranked but little higher than a bartender, while an actress was an unprincipled hussy" (Exit, p. 23).  When Tony and Harriet return years later, the townspeople gossip about the couple's relationship and about Harriet's son, and the townspeople serve as Christian censors in an entirely unchristian manner.  Although the novel includes betrayal, robberies, murder, and tragic death, the main focus of the book is the development of Tony, Harriet, and Pierre, the latter the hope of the two lovers, who plays many roles in developing as a person.  The major role includes his refusal to yield to Bruce's request for money although he has always in the past yielded to his elder stepbrother.

            Wright's autobiography, To My Sons (1934), is the final book which rests primarily on the theme of development of virtuous character.  In covering the first thirty years of his life, Wright presents the lessons which life has taught him and which have influenced his moral and spiritual development.  He insists that an individual must work to make his life significant, which he has done in rising from a poverty stricken background to become a successful writer.  In the autobiography, he often preaches to his sons on how to develop good character.  As a result, the book is very personal.

            In all of these books, Wright focuses on the development of virtuous character.  His message is subtle in some of the novels such as The Shepherd of the Hills but in Their Yesterdays, Wright is too blunt.  When he mixes theme with a good story, the result is an interesting novel which also carries his message to his audience.  Their Yesterdays fails because he deletes the story.  To Wright virtuous character is a force on which this country must depend for its own welfare.  The desirable American is, for Wright, well developed morally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.  Nature is influential on the development of character, and so the country provides an atmosphere conducive to a person's growth.  In the earlier novels, the Ozarks provided that quality.  Later, he turned to the West as Eden for the American people.


Back to Exit


    [1]Harold Bell Wright, Exit (New York:  Appleton, 1930), p. 48.  Subsequent references to this book will be incorporated into the body of the text as Exit and pagination.

Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

 

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