Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:1 (Winter 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Wallace Stegner's great, obsessive theme, evidenced in all of his novels, from the first, Remembering Laughter (1938), to the latest, Recapitulation (1979), is the hard, painful process by which solid, culture-engendering and -preserving values are achieved. The portrayal of intrafamilial conflicts and tensions, extending across generations, has been the means by which Stegner has most successfully demonstrated this process of acquiring civilization-building values. Stegner has left the depiction of the alienation and angst of the modern antihero to others. The family is what truly inspires him, stimulating him to give sensate fictional body to his ideas. Critics have recognized this fact and Stegner himself is fully aware of it. "And what is fiction made of anyway? It's made of births and deaths and weddings and courtships. I don't know what we're going to make of it when the family has gone out of style completely. There's nothing left. You starve yourself without family-you starve your hatreds as well as your loves. We need a core of associations. . . . We need indispensable relationships. " We find these "indispensable relationships," productive of both so much hatred and of so much love, fully accomplished for the first time in Stegner's The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), his fifth novel. Stegner does not attain such complexity, such verve, and such breadth in his fiction again until Angle of Repose (1971), his Pulitzer Prizewinning novel. Since the larger and more interesting part of Angle of Repose is set in the latter half of the nineteenth century, The Big Rock Candy Mountain remains Stegner's most searching, expansive, and compelling novel about twentieth-century America.