The unknown man who enters the forest is actually Graham Heath, the
forest's owner, who has recently lost his wealth in a stock market
transaction. He arrives
under an assumed name so that he can evaluate the worth of the wood.
He stays with will Irvine, the young caretaker of the forest.
Irvine has been educated by his grandfather, a famous scientist
and caretaker of the forest before him.
Although Will loves June Grayson, who also lives in the forest,
she refuses to marry him because she believes her blindness will be a
hindrance to Will professionally.
June lives with a woman of dubious character named Crazy Liz
Verones. Liz and her son
Burt actually are involved in the coastal drug smuggling.
Through a complicated series of events, the smugglers are
arrested, and Jun's sight is miraculously restored making it possible,
under Wright's fictional manipulation, for her to marry Will.
She was not previously able to afford the necessary operation
to restore her sight, but a wealthy woman who befriends her pays for
the surgery. During the
months of Heath's stay with Will, he regains a sense of spiritual
peace in the forest and decides not to cut the trees down.
His past is disclosed after he learns that Crazy Liz is his
daughter and June is his granddaughter.
Because of the interference of his proud and socially prominent
mother, he and his wife were separated years before, and he has lost
trace of his family until Liz confesses her identity when she is
mortally wounded during the drug raid.
Not only is the novel filled with suspense; it also includes
Wright's creed on religion, materialism, city life, "joyous
and the environment. The
young scientist, influenced by his grandfather's beliefs, develops a
definite theory of the place of spirituality in the evolution of man
in which the power of "spiritual values and forces" is
recognized (The Man, p. 187).
When asked about the place of the church in this theory, Will
replies very cynically that the institution, "while professing
spirituality, seeks to advance itself by intellectual and material
means, rather than by spiritual realities" (The Man, p.
190). The church will
eventually disappear, Will feels, as has the saber-toothed tiger.
The biologist maintains that "the human family is living
in a state of materialistic savagery" (The Man, p. 185)
and still have some evolving to do.
Relative to his statement on materialism is the corruption seen
in city life and business. The
two main symbols in this novel are the highway, which represents
progress, and the forest, which represents peace.
As Heath acknowledges, "the giant trees gave him something
he had never found in the world of stock market crashes, bank
failures, racketeers, and political trickery" (The Man, p.
175). He turns from the
highway, which he sees as "crowded with roaring machines driven
by harrowed souls who were frantically endeavoring to escape from this
world of conflict, confusion and futile striving" (The Man,
p. 306). As a young man,
Heath embodied the "spirit of joyous living" (The Man,
p. 161), but his mother successfully destroyed that spirit and caused
him to turn to business where he finally realizes that his life has
been wasted. Once again he tries to find that spirit of his youth and
secures forever the Redwoods by donating them to the Federal
Government's preservation system.
Wright's last novel was financially a failure.
However, The man Who Went Away, like his other western
novels, although different in time and setting, still drives home the
theme of the wilderness as intrinsically good whether it is the Canyon
of Gold or the Redwoods. Above
all, Wright warns the native to be aware of the materialistic forces
which could destroy the beauty and natural purity of the frontier.
As an early environmentalist, he had reason for his concern.
The rudiments of his environmentalism can be seen in The Man
with the Iron Door, in which he berates the white man for his
thoughtless destruction of the Southwest.
If the West is to remain a paradise, then care must be taken
that it does not approach the moral and physical corruption of the
East. The West is a new
place, an Eden where American people can be morally, physically,
spiritually, and intellectually superior.
If the West is to remain a utopia, the people must forbid
entrance by easterners, especially those who would exploit the region
for its economic value, as does Holdbrook in A Son of His Father.
Those easterners who are willing to convert to the rugged
individualism and harsh realities of the West are welcome.
Willard Holmes in The Winning of Barbara Worth, Patches
in When a Man's a Man, Hugh Edwards in The Mine with the
Iron Door, and Graham Heath of The Man Who Went Away all
became converts to the ideology of the West and find peace in their
residents must always keep in mind though that they are not the true
recognized the plight of the southwestern Indian tribes, and in
tribute to them, he wrote Long Ago Told in order that the
original culture of the Southwest might be preserved.