Thursday, January 17, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #91

Title: Tobacco Road
Author: Erskine Caldwell
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: Hmm, I can't really answer this one according to the guidelines I've set up, since I can't find an image of the cover for the version that I read. I'll just post a different cover for the same book. This whole section is a pretty stupid idea-- what's so fun about critiquing a book's cover?

Thoughts: This was a very difficult book to read. The prose was straightforward and simple, and I finished it in only a couple of days, but as a whole, it was very unpleasant to get to know the characters and witness the decisions they made. The book outlines the decline and disintegration of the Lester family, a group of sharecroppers in rural Georgia who haven't planted cotton for seven years. They survive by stealing food, occasionally selling firewood, and starving, all of which seem like better alternatives to them than relocating and/or finding jobs.

I was totally shocked by the absolute callousness that was the modus operandi of the Lester family. Each character's disregard for the needs, feelings, and even lives of the others was total. One character is so thoroughly consumed by his passion for cars that when he hits and kills a man while driving, he doesn't give the man's death more than a brief afterthought (nor does he stop the car and try to aid him). Examples of this attitude abound in the book, as do examples of religious hypocrisy, racism, elder abuse, statutory rape, and all other kinds of fun/great things. The book ends on a somber note, suggesting that the situations that strip uneducated people of their resources and means of survival are impossible to break free from, and that the foolish mindsets of the parents are passed down to their children down through the generations.

Something that really struck me in this book was the characters' unwavering belief that God would magically solve their problems with no effort on their part-- money will fall down from the sky, and they will be able to do what they've always done. To me, it seems crystal clear what the family should do-- abandon the farm that has failed to produce for years, move a few miles away, and work in a textile mill or factory. It's not an ideal situation, but it sure beats starving to death. Instead, they obstinately cling to the land and refuse to work or to try to find creative solutions, thinking that God will pave the way for them. This challenges me to look at my own perspective and attitude-- are there situations in life where God has opened a door for me, but I've refused to walk through it, instead choosing to push against a brick wall (all the while begging Him for a solution)? I'm inspired to make sure that I'm listening and obeying God instead of just assuming that He is on my side, regardless of what decisions I make.

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