The Dollmaker Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 74 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Dollmaker.
This section contains 590 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Dollmaker Summary & Study Guide Description

The Dollmaker Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles and a Free Quiz on The Dollmaker by Harriette Simpson Arnow.

This novel chronicles the struggles that a spirited woman from the hills of Kentucky faces as she attempts to realize her life-long dream of owning her own farm. Rich in characterization, detail of setting, and symbolic depth, The Dollmaker explores themes relating to love, sacrifice, and the dangers of striving too hard to live the American dream.

In the early days of World War II, strong-willed Gertie Nevels saves her youngest son's life by refusing to acknowledge the many obstacles placed in her path. Her gritty determination also fuels her dreams of purchasing a local piece of farmland, which she envisions providing a productive home for her and her family for the rest of their lives. It also sustains her yearning to find the right face for the figure she is carving out of a beautiful block of cherry wood.

Shortly following Gertie's return to her Kentucky mountain home, her husband Clovis is called into the city to undergo his army examinations to see if he is fit to serve. When he does not come back, Gertie has to wait several lonely, anxious waiting weeks before she receives a letter from him. He says he has gotten a job in Detroit and is anxious for her and their five children to join him. Gertie, who had been almost at the point of signing a lease on her beloved farm, is forced to abandon her dreams and move to the city.

A harrowing trip by train and taxi brings Gertie, her children, their few belongings, and the precious block of cherry wood to Detroit in the middle of a vicious winter. She and her children are disappointed to the point of being traumatized - their home, the town, the school, their neighbors, nothing is the way Gertie hoped it would be. Then begins a long and difficult period of struggle as Gertie tussles with gas stoves, electric refrigerators, troublesome neighbors, her children's lack of adjustment, Clovis' unpredictable moods, and her own aching homesickness. Through it all Gertie continually seeks solace in her lingering dreams of returning home and in the block of cherry wood. Sometimes she only caresses it, sometimes she actually works on it, but always she is comforted by it.

As the winter gets worse, so does Gertie's need for comfort. Her eldest son, completely unable to adjust to his new life, runs away and goes back to Kentucky. Her favorite daughter, an imaginative and independent little girl, is run over and killed by a train. Clovis becomes involved in union activities at the plant where he works, eventually being beaten and scarred when he tries to protect his union boss from a beating by thugs who were hired by management. Neighbors come and go, tentative friendships and ongoing rivalries are forged, and through it all, Gertie brings in increasing amounts of money by selling little carvings of animals, small dolls, and figures of Christ on the cross.

At the end of the war, Clovis is laid off and the family's need for money becomes more acute than ever. A former neighbor offers Gertie a substantial and life saving sum of money to create several small carvings for her. The money is intended to buy wood, but the family's needs are too great for Gertie to ignore. She takes the cherry wood block to a scrap wood dealer and chops it into pieces she can more easily use for the small carvings. All her dreams are gone. All she is left with is her life.

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This section contains 590 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
Buy The Dollmaker Study Guide
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