Indy Study: Country Place by Ann Petry

Though basically well written and constructed, Country Place does not have much literary merit. It’s hard to call it a bad book (like Savage Holiday), but it’s definitely not that good, either. Like Seraph on the Suwanee, Country Place reads primarily like Petry chose to write about white subjects in order to be able to sell her product to a larger market.

The plot of Petry’s plot is full of one cliche after another. A soldier, Johnny, returns home from World War II to a small Connecticut town and his bride, Glory, whom he suspects of having an affair. Glory actually didn’t have an affair, yet, though Johnny’s return drives her to Ed, who is known for involving himself with other people’s wives. The town cabbie and gossip, The Weasel, observes the two together one day, and through his snooping, also finds out that Glory’s mother, Lil, also had an affair with Ed. Lil is married to Mearns Gramby, the momma’s boy son of the town’s wealthiest resident, Mrs. Gramby. While, initially at least, Glory does present a soft feminist critique of the expectations for a small town wife, the focus of the plot is really the soap opera material.

Does the focus on white characters make race more or less visible?
Race is not a significant issue in the novel. However, the only characters in the book who seem to have any moral value whatsoever are the three black servants of Mrs. Gramby.

Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial differences meant to allow the author to focus on other issues?
Similar to the chapter in Petry’s novel The Street where its black protagonist works as a domestic worker for a white family in Connecticut, Country Place depicts white people as being callous, selfish, and immoral. However, whereas in The Street, the whiteness of the immoral characters is significant, in Country Place it is not a major focus.

How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
The book makes a lot of sense in the context of Petry’s other work. However, if I were to have read this novel on its own, Petry’s race would not have significantly changed my reading of it.

How does writing at a time of drastic racial change effect how the author deals with issues in a homogeneously racialized world?
This book, originally published in 1947, is more of a product of the end of World War II then the the period after it. It gives no indication of coming societal changes.
Works Cited: Petry, Ann. Country Place. New York: Signet, 1950.

Next: This is the last book. I’ll post some concluding thoughts in a couple of weeks.

Previous Independent Study Posts:
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Next Set of Books
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Savage Holiday by Richard Wright
Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston

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