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Dr. Joyce Kinkead on The Man Who Went Away
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

<<< Continued from previous page  

                                                  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 living,"[1] 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 conversion.  Western residents must always keep in mind though that they are not the true natives.  Wright 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.


Back to The Man Who Went Away


    [1]Harold Bell Wright, The Man Who Went Away (New York:  Grosset and Dunlap, 1942), p. 161.  Subsequent references to this book will be incorporated into the body of the text as The Man and pagination.

Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

         

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