Hamlin Garland (1860-1940)
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.
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
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?
(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
(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
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
Ahnebrink, Lars. The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950, 63-89. European influences on
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
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
--. "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
Walcutt, Charles C. American Literary Naturalism, A Divided Stream.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956, 53-63.