I posted my first reactions to this 1934 book a few days ago. At that time I had read Parts One and Two. Part One, The Old Folks, introduces us to Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson and their extended family, living in a small town in rural Iowa. Part Two, The Good Son, tells the story of the oldest Ferguson child, Carl. One generation from the farm, he plans and lives his life in accordance with established values, not always to his entire satisfaction.
The Fergusons also have two daughters. In Part Three, The Loveliest Time of the Year, we accompany Dorothy in the last days before her wedding and the wedding day itself. Dorothy is the pretty daughter, the compliant one, and she marries well. Yet, when she returns home for the wedding she does not return to what she was before. She finds the family church less attractive than she remembered it.
Yet there was a worn, homely dignity in the shabbiness of the little church. It had been built by true believers. Believers, at any rate, in the sanctity of their own denomination. Dorothy knew now that, although she had felt herself shocked and hurt sometimes by Jesse’s teasing, she had long ago grown out of the folks’ belief and could never go back to it. Maybe it was better that she was going away.
What Dorothy does not question is the importance of marriage and of having found her true love. She is ready to be awakened, but Jesse protects her from expressing it prematurely. The night before the wedding they walk in the yard and kiss, with increasing passion.
A helpless, long, ecstatic sigh, almost a sob, breathed from Dorothy’s lips as Jesse’s pressed harder and harder against them.
“Dorothy — sweetheart –” she heard Jesse whisper — “you’d better not stay out here any longer.”
She said in wonder, “No, I guess not.”
She drew herself away from Jesse. Something in her obedience to him did it for her. She had no power of her own.
Dorothy is liberated enough to own up to her sexual feelings, but the author puts Jesse firmly in charge of their expression and Dorothy accepts that it must be so.
In Part Four, The Other Girl, that girl is Margaret, the other Ferguson daughter. She regards marriage as a trap and her hometown as a place to escape from. She does escape, to New York and Greenwich Village and little tea shops and black candles and the rest of it. With her she carries a romantic image of some great love affair she hopes to experience. She expects to love and to renounce, to suffer and to write sonnets. Margaret is so insufferable as a person that it is difficult to understand how we should see this. If the home town was stifling, New York verges on disgusting with its crumby apartments and failed philosophers. Ultimately Margaret — now calling herself Margot — does find love but then finds that she wants attachment after all. Her married lover tells her how it is.
“Margot,” he told her, “you’ve got to see it a little from my side. I don’t think you realize how little you go outside your own feelings. You hold up love as if it were something apart from people. That’s all right for you. You can do as you please. You haven’t anyone else to think of. It can’t be just the same for me. You’ve never been willing to look at my situation. Or what it meant to me.
Now that we’ve reached this moment of truth, we could stop the music and go on to something else, but Suckow tells us more about Margot’s search for love and self expression. This is an ambivalent book. Suckow realizes that the times they are a changing and that the generation which grew up off the farm is changing with those times. Margaret’s personal limitations weight the story against the benefits of change. Whether bound by convention or fighting against it, in the end, both Dorothy and Margaret want to absorb themselves in the love of a strong man.
For the conclusion of The Folks, click here.