Hamlin Garland (1860-1940)

    Contributing Editor:
    James Robert Payne

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    Discussion and explanation of Garland's populist values and political activities definitely enhance an appreciation of his fiction, as does some consideration, however brief, of his interest in Henry George's economic theories. Relate the populist movement of late nineteenth-century America to present-day grievances and problems of American farmers. More generally, compare social and political tensions between southern, midwestern, and western American regions on the one hand, and the northeastern region on the other in Garland's day and today.

    Garland's profound empathy for the life situation of the rural and small-town midwestern farm woman requires discussion and may be productively studied in relation to Garland's biography. If feasible (depending on student interest), compare Garland's "single-tax" notions (derived from Henry George, 1839-97) with present-day tax reform schemes. What would be the social impact of such schemes, then and now?

    Students express interest in Garland's representation of the impact on rural society of national economic policies and laws. They are also interested in comparing the role of women in rural America as given in Garland's writings with what they perceive as the role of women in rural areas today. Students will also compare the impact of land speculators and monopoly industries on society today with the impact of such forces as represented in Garland's writings.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    1. Central to much of Garland's best fiction and autobiography is an attempt to contrast actual conditions of American farm families with nineteenth-century (and earlier) idealizations of farm life.

    2. As we see in his story "Up the Coulé" and elsewhere, Garland was very interested in the drama inherent in relations between farm families and their urbanized children.

    3. Garland's theme of white America's injustice to Indians, apparent in his novel The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop and his collection the Book of the American Indian, is very important though neglected in teaching and writing about Garland.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    1. If the instructor is interested in such conventions as "realism" and "naturalism," Garland may be taught as a transitional figure between the relatively genteel realism of William Dean Howells and the harsher naturalism we associate with Stephen Crane (as in Maggie, 1893) and Theodore Dreiser (as in Sister Carrie, 1900).

    2. Consider represented speech in Garland's fiction, including suggestions of German language, as we see in "Up the Coulé," as indicative of Garland's efforts toward realism.

    Original Audience

    Although Garland's early fiction, such as that collected in Main-Travelled Roads (which includes "Up the Coulé"), shocked many with its frank portrayal of the harshness of actual farm life, as Garland perceived that life, by the end of his career, particularly through such works as A Son of the Middle Border, Garland was a recognized, even beloved, chronicler of the opening up and settlement of the American Midwest and West. In Garland's day, many rural midwesterners read A Son of the Middle Border as their region's analogue to Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. Readers today value Garland's work as giving a most authentic dramatization of post-Civil War midwestern rural life.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Emile Zola (1840-1902)--French naturalist author who endeavored to convey an accurate picture of the poor and marginalized of France in his day. Compare and contrast with Garland's drama of the harsh life on nineteenth-century American farms.

    Willa Cather (1873-1947)--Compare Cather's presentation of rural midwestern life to Garland's. Is the picture that Cather gives us more balanced, varied, and perhaps more positive than Garland's generally bleak views?

    John Steinbeck (1902-1947)--With particular reference to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939), compare unrest of farmers in 1930s (Steinbeck) to that in the late nineteenth century (Garland).

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing

    1. Items that follow refer specifically to Garland's story "Up the Coulé":

    (a) As you read, recall a time when you returned to your parental home after a considerable period of absence during which you achieved, perhaps, a new sophistication. Compare your experience, feelings, and family tension to family tensions and feelings represented in "Up the Coulé."

    (b) Compare Garland's portrayal of farm life to your experience of farm life.

    2. Discuss Garland's fiction against the background of the populist movement of late-nineteenth-century America.

    (a) Research Garland's autobiographies, especially A Son of the Middle Border and A Daughter of the Middle Border and trace autobiographical tendencies in Garland's fiction.

    (b) Research Henry George's "single-tax" theories (see George's Progress and Poverty, 1879) and compare George's ideas and themes with ideas implicit in Garland's Main-Travelled Roads stories.

    (c) Compare and contrast themes and values of Garland's A Son of the Middle Border to Franklin's Autobiography.


    Ahnebrink, Lars. The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950, 63-89. European influences on Garland.

    Bledsoe, Thomas. "Introduction." In Main-Travelled Roads. New York: Rinehart, 1954.

    Folsom, James K. The American Western Novel. New Haven: College and University Press, 1966, 149-55, 180-84. On Garland's writings about Indians.

    Gish, Robert. Hamlin Garland: The Far West. Boise State University Western Writers Series, No. 24. Boise: Boise State University, 1976.

    McCullough, Joseph B. Hamlin Garland. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Short, readable, solid introductory book.

    Pizer, Donald. "Hamlin Garland's A Son of the Middle Border: Autobiography as Art." In Essays in American and English Literature Presented to B. R. McElderry, Jr., edited by Max L. Schultz, 76-107. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1967.

    --. Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. Best treatment of Garland's most vital years as fictionist.

    --. "Herbert Spencer and the Genesis of Hamlin Garland's Critical System." Tulane Studies in English 7 (1957): 153-68.

    Taylor, Walter F. The Economic Novel in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942, 148-83. On Garland's social and economic views.

    Walcutt, Charles C. American Literary Naturalism, A Divided Stream. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956, 53-63.