E. L. Doctorow | Critical Review by Wirt Williams

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of E. L. Doctorow.
This section contains 400 words
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Critical Review by Wirt Williams

SOURCE: "Bad Man from Bodie," in New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1960, p. 51.

In the following review, Williams outlines the conflict and theme of Welcome to Hard Times.

"Once again, the legend of the Old West has been rescued for a serious literary purpose," say the publishers of this first novel by a philosophy major. Inevitably, they invoke The Ox-Bow Incident—a practice followed by many reviewers, who seldom fail to pronounce the work at hand the first serious fiction about the West since—well, almost always since The Ox-Bow Incident (e.g.: The Authentic Death of Dendry Janes, Carrington, A Distant Trumpet, Warlock). It is time to acknowledge that the "serious Western" has established itself firmly on a sub-genre of fiction. Welcome to Hard Times is an exfoliation on a quite sturdy branch.

Thematically, E. L. Doctorow's short novel is concerned with one of the favorite problems of philosophers: the relationship of man and evil. Its structure is appropriately dramatic and simple. Into a small settlement in the Dakotas comes a Bad Man from Bodie. With easy and pleasurable cruelty, he destroys the town. It only takes a few brutalities, a couple of murders, and some simple arson.

Blue, self-appointed record keeper and honorific mayor, is too weak, too afraid—in a familiar tradition—to kill the Bad Man. Later, he sets about to rebuild the town. He also takes one of the brutalized bar girls, Molly, as common-law wife. The Bad Man comes back, of course. He has the inevitable confrontation with the Mayor, of course. But its inner meaning is a great distance from the business of "a man's gotta dew what a man's gotta dew."

The book says that evil comes only when summoned. Blue tries to explain it to Molly: "You know something? Listen to me, you know why he came that time? We wanted him. Our tongues were just hanging out for him." And when the rebuilt Hard Times wants Evil again, the Bad Man returns. Blue finally kills him, perceiving that he has failed as badly in acting as he had failed earlier in not acting.

Perhaps the primary theme of the novel is that evil can only be resisted psychically: when the rational controls that order man's existence slacken, destruction comes. Conrad said it best in Heart of Darkness, but Mr. Doctorow has said it impressively. His book is taut and dramatic, exciting and successfully symbolic.

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This section contains 400 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Wirt Williams
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