Alice Adams was written while Tarkington was working on the books that make up his Growth trilogy, and in its seriocomic fashion presents the same concerns and themes. The Adamses, Mrs. Adams in particular, dream of wealth and social position, and their obsession destroys them. They are really lower middle-class people with neither the strength of character nor the ingenuity to be anything else.
This novel demonstrates how pervasive false values are in American society. Tarkington presents an ordinary family with the same materialistic creed that had corrupted their social superiors. That they wish to escape the smoke and soot of their surroundings is understandable. But the spiritual equivalents of soot and smoke, false ideals and pretensions, make it impossible for them to face reality and their true place in the scheme of things.