Sometimes I analyze the weirdest things. The other day I caught myself thinking about Oreo Cookies. For several minutes I mulled over the simple complexities of the Oreo. Its so simple, yet so good. Two chocolate wafers with a cream filling between. Nothing much there to it, and yet brilliantly constructed. Beauty truly can be found in the mundane.
I found myself pulling on this same thread when thinking about Tobacco Road. Erskine Caldwell introduces us the the Lesters, whom the descriptions of simple would be an understatement. They don't have much, and not just in the material sense, but in the intellectual category as well. This simple family lives on a simple road, in a simple town, in a simple county. And yet within that simplicity is a deep complexity that like the Oreo cookie, will have you coming back for more.
This is one of those novels were the imagery runs deep and you are going to have to take several passes at this to catch it all. After only one reading of this novel there was 3 themes that kept coming back to me. If anything Caldwell's book made me do a lot of reflecting and mulling over these forth coming thoughts.
The land the Lesters live on, which they are supposed to farm, which is supposed to provide for them, is what is ultimately their downfall. The land is covered with overgrowth and useless trees that can not be sold for fire wood. It is depleted of its nutrients, its life giving elements. Ultimately it is no good to this family and in the end, the land ultimately destroys them. I see this as a easy parallel to the materialism of our current culture. It the sirens calls for happiness, contentment, and life. But like the land it leaves us wanting more, barren, and unsatisfied.
I also kept going back to the fact that Jeeter was either unwilling or usable to change with the current times. It seemed that farming and specifically farming cotton was no longer a viable means of occupation in this region and yet Jeeter insisted on continuing this tradition. Even if it meant starvation. I kept oscillating between respect for Jeeter for continuing what he believed in and disgust for his selfishness and inability to change for the good of his family. It made me reflect on what am I unwilling to change despite the obviously shift in the culture and how do you decide what ideas are important enough to take to the grave and draw a line in the sand?
It also struck me that this novel was completely void of any selfless acts. I am unable to think of a character who actions were not motivated by self interest. Every actions was rooted in selfishness. It was a worrisome look into a culture that is unable to look outside itself.
If you are looking for a summer beach novel, this is not for you. But if you are looking for a short novel to discuss with others, or contemplate with yourself, then take a trip down Tobacco Road
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.