Dr. Joyce Kinkead
on Their Yesterdays
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.
Used by Permission.
continued from previous page.
goes through what Wright considers the thirteen great facets in life:
dreams, occupation, knowledge, ignorance, religion, tradition,
temptation, life, death, failure, success, love, and memories. Each chapter concentrates on one of these aspects and is
divided to show the points of view of the man and woman. The split point of view technique is the most interesting
characteristic of the novel; it represents a departure from the normal
Wright method of telling a story.
Beginning when both characters have reached adulthood and are alone
in the world, the first chapter introduces the man and the woman as they
dream of the past and future. They
are about to begin their occupations.
The man works very hard at his job and in the second chapter
receives notice by his employer; the woman, because she is not married,
must also seek work, thus becoming what Wright believes is a second class
citizen to the wife. Though she has marriage proposals, she refuses to marry
The characters next discover knowledge--not education, but
experience. He finds that
"knowledge is not knowing about a thing but knowing the thing."
In contrast, the woman does not desire education, for she already
knows the secret of life. She wants instead "the prouder dependence of a true
womanhood" which rests on trust, faith, belief, and emotion (Yesterdays,
p. 88). With the attainment
of knowledge, the man comes to understand the value of ignorance.
The wise person is one who can confess ignorance and say, "I
do not know" (Yesterdays, p. 106).
He also realizes that he regrets some of the things he knows, and
forgetting is often more difficult than remembering (Yesterdays, p.
110). Religion provides the
foundation and stability for the man's and the woman's characters though
they momentarily doubt their faith. In
the chapter on tradition the man comes to understand the barrier of
"established customs and habits" which resist new ideas (Yesterdays,
p. 166). On the other hand,
the woman is dissatisfied with changes and an age that scorns tradition (Yesterdays,
p. 182). Through her, Wright
criticizes fads and the women's movement, insisting that the true woman is
a mother and wife. In fact,
the woman who prefers a career to being a mother is a woman to be pitied (Yesterdays,
The man and woman are next led into temptation.
He is tested by a woman who works with him and "lures"
him with her sex (Yesterdays, p. 197).
He almost submits to her challenge but is saved by the pristine
kiss of his landlady's young daughter who reminds him of the little girl
from the past (Yesterdays, p. 205).
The man's counterpart is tempted by an offer of marriage from her
kind foreman. She, thinking
that she may never have another chance at marriage, decides to accept his
proposal until she compares herself to the prostitutes who "sell
themselves to all men for a price" (Yesterdays, p. 211); then,
she rejects his offer and decides to remain employed though she fells that
being employed is lowlier than being a wife.
The man discovers the joy of life during Christmas, while the woman
is depressed during her holiday because she is not fulfilling her desire
to be a wife and mother. The
reality of death comes to them when the man survives a train wreck, but
the engineer, who was the girl's uncle, dies (Yesterdays, pp.
247-49). They realize that
they are merely mortals and that death is not the mock funeral they played
during their youth.
The next two chapters center on the dichotomy of failure and
success. The man fails at his
work, but with his eventual success, he finds the value of failure, for
"a good strong failure is the corner stone [sic] of a well builded
[sic] life" (Yesterdays, p. 267).
For a woman, "love and success are one" (Yesterdays,
p. 296). The couple rediscover each other while they coincidentally
vacation at their old hometown, fall in love, and marry.
Their childhood memories influence the two during their passage
through the thirteen great things in life as each great thing stimulates a
relating childhood memory.
One reviewer notes that Their Yesterdays is "Scarcely
fiction, but rather a vaguely personalized sermon upon the intimate
affairs of mind and heart and soul that are common to all the sons and
daughters of man."
Although Wright in his novels is essentially a preacher, he is also
a good story teller. In this
novel he deletes the characters' names as well as pertinent facts about
them and specific story details. Instead,
he generalizes, and when there is an opportunity to tell any specific
detail (how the young man achieves his success, for example), he says,
"I do not know" or "that is not my story" (Yesterdays,
p. 286). This lack of detail
is frustrating for the reader who is accustomed to Wright's or any other
author's ability to tell detailed stories.
His other novels which incorporate the theme of achieving virtuous
character have interesting plots, and they succeed.
This novel's didactic but straightforward lesson on how to achieve
success fails. The reviewer
who assumes that Their Yesterdays will be another success simply
because it is written by Wright is mistaken.
Fortunately for his public, Wright realized his error and in his
next book returned to his familiar method of plot.
Copyright 1979 by
Used by Permission.