Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Taliaferro Boatwright

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 689 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Taliaferro Boatwright

Critical Review by Taliaferro Boatwright

SOURCE: "A Novel of the Atom Bomb," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, May 3, 1959, p. 4.

In the following review, Boatwright argues that, "This essentially romantic portrayal of life weakens and diffuses the force of the author's moral argument [in Command the Morning, which is foursquare on the side of life and against the use of the bomb for destruction…."]

Since the second world war, Pearl Buck tells us, she has been increasingly preoccupied by the atom bomb. This absorption, which has embraced the theories of nuclear physics, the construction of the bomb and the nature and problems of the men who designed and developed it, has resulted in short stories, a play, A Desert Incident, which appeared briefly on Broadway earlier this year, and now a full-scale novel, which she has called, in recognition of the illimitable potentialities of nuclear power, Command the Morning. As might be expected of a writer of Mrs. Buck's sensibility, the principal concern of the book is the moral issue that confronted the scientists who worked on the bomb: whether they could in conscience devote their talents to the building of an instrument of destruction, a device which would cause untold death and suffering and, conceivably, might trigger the extinction of man.

In some ways "novel" is a misnomer for her book, for it is in large part a factual and accurate history of the construction of the bomb, and includes as characters a number of real persons. Most, including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, Vice-President Wallace and Vannevar Bush, are identified obliquely, as are the settings—the University of Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford, Los Alamos. Some are thinly disguised; a few, notably the late Enrico Fermi, play their own parts. However, the principals, Burton Hall, the fiftyish scientist who organizes and spearheads the project, Stephen Coast, the brilliant young physicist who is his chief lieutenant, and Jane Earl, the beautiful Anglo-Indian who becomes Hall's assistant, are completely fictional.

In so far as the book sticks to the exciting and still not widely known story of the making of the bomb it is excellent. The in-gathering of the scientists, the decision to proceed, the dramatic first self-sustaining chain reaction at Stagg Field, the construction of Oak Ridge and Hanford, the first mushroom cloud over the mesa, the agonizing qualms of the scientists over dropping the bomb on Hiroshima—all these are ably handled.

Not as much can be said for the "human interest," which seems to have been conceived with an eye to a bonbon and chaise lounge readership. This is true not only of the plot, which is concerned with such questions as whether a scientist can find happiness if he cannot share his innermost thoughts with his wife and whether a woman scientist can be both a woman and a scientist, but also of the book's general tone, that is, its system of values and its portrayal of contemporary behavior and motivation. Thus we are presented with a society of superhuman scientists and their loyal wives, a world in which the only sin is neglect, and that only as a consequence of service to the all-demanding god Science, a world from which malice and evil have been banished, along with passion, in any sense other than the romantic love of the troubadours. A few nods are made in the direction of sex: Burton Hall is represented as lustful. Coast's wife has an affair with a defecting English scientist, Jane Earl comes close to falling in love with both Coast and Hall. But Hall is all talk, Helen Coast's affair is bloodless, and Jane's loves turn out to be mostly renunciations.

This essentially romantic portrayal of life weakens and diffuses the force of the author's moral argument, which is foursquare on the side of life and against the use of the bomb for destruction, but cannot dim the story of the achievement of the scientists and the possibilities unleashed by the unlocking of secrets of nuclear power, the "divine fire" which, as Mrs. Buck rightly points out, will enable us to "ride into space on the wings of power" to command the morning, indeed.

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This section contains 689 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Taliaferro Boatwright
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