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Tobacco Road (1932)

by Erskine Caldwell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,4344511,011 (3.41)103
**** Reprint of the 1932 Scribners edition cited in BCL3. Annotation copyright by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
  1. 10
    God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell (SanctiSpiritus)
  2. 00
    Sanctuary by William Faulkner (SCPeterson)
  3. 00
    Such As Us: Southern Voices of the Thirties by Tom E. Terrill (kthomp25)
    kthomp25: "A very early experiment in the publication of oral history, it consisted of thirty-five life histories of sharecroppers, farmers, mill workers, townspeople, and the unemployed of the Southeast, selected from over a thousand such histories collected by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s."… (more)

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» See also 103 mentions

English (43)  Spanish (2)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
It's hard to believe there were ever any people as ignorant as the characters in this story, but who knows? I never lived in Georgia, either. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
He still could not understand why he had nothing, and would never have anything, and there was no one who knew and who could tell him.

Those are the words of Jeeter Lester. I could have made him a pretty comprehensive list of reasons why, and I think Erskine Caldwell could have too. And, some of those things were not his fault and perhaps beyond his control, but most of them were not.

This book is raw and almost depraved. Its characters are only true of a type, and as such not real at all as people you would know or meet. And, it is not easy to nail down exactly how the author views them or the message he is trying to convey. There is sardonic humor and yet you are never tempted to laugh; there is unmitigated tragedy, but you are also never tempted to cry.

It is a good thing Caldwell kept this short, because no one would wish to spend another minute with the Lesters. The only characters who even deserve compassion are Pearl, who gratefully hid from her “husband” and escaped the fate of her mother, and the starved and abused grandmother, who was beyond any ability to escape the torment.

I think the hyperbole is intentional. I don’t think these are the real hard-pressed, poor people of the rural south in 1930. Whatever statement Caldwell was trying to make about religion (and I’m not sure I have decided what that was), I doubt many of those real Southerners would have recognized themselves, or the belief system his characters displayed. I can remember my grandmother, in the 1950s, on her very thin knees for periods of time that made my own little ones ache, and I can assure you there was not an ounce of insincerity or hypocrisy in her prayers--on your knees in hard prayer was common. I am not convinced things would have changed that much in the course of twenty years.

I am left with a mixture of unexpected feelings. There is something unforgettable about the story, beyond the shock factor, but it also makes you feel like you have just witnessed something foul that you would like to put away.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I read this when I was quite young. Perhaps time to read it again. ( )
  MMc009 | Jan 30, 2022 |
This is one of the saddest books I've read since I learned how to read.

It's also one of the most graphic, emotional accounts (of casual homicide and sexual violence) of extreme poverty among poor white Georgia sharecroppers during the Depression -- a good fiction companion piece to the anthropological studies of Alabama sharecroppers Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Cotton Tenants, both by James Agee and Walker Evans. Erskine Caldwell, himself a product of the rural South, knew families like the Lesters firsthand.

According to the Foreward by Lewis Nordan, Tobacco Road was one of those books that nearly every single American knew about in its time. And I wonder what life was like in America then -- what effect did the awareness of extreme hopelessness have on the national psyche in 1932? ( )
  FinallyJones | Nov 17, 2021 |
Tired quickly of reading of po' white trash. ( )
  cwcoxjr | Sep 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erskine Caldwellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baudisch, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coindreau, Maurice-EdgarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jonason, OlovTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kristensen, Sven MøllerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martone, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sánchez, AtanasioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vázquez Rial, HoracioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my Father and Mother
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Lov Bensey trudged homeward through the deep white sand of the gully-washed tobacco road with a sack of winter turnips on his back.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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**** Reprint of the 1932 Scribners edition cited in BCL3. Annotation copyright by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

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Book description
Tobacco Road, published by Charles Scribner and Sons in 1932, was Caldwell's third novel. It was inspired by the terrible poverty he witnessed as a young man growing up in the small east Georgia town of Wrens. His father, Ira Sylvester Caldwell, who was pastor of the local Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, was also an amateur sociologist and often took his son with him to observe some of the more destitute members of the rural community. Erskine Caldwell's sympathy for these people and his outrage at the conditions in which they lived were real, and his novel was meant to be a work of social protest. But he also refused to sentimentalize their poverty or to cast his characters as inherently noble in their sufferings, as so many other protest works did.

The novel's Lester family, headed by the shiftless patriarch Jeeter, both appall and intrigue readers with their gross sexuality, casual violence, selfishness, and overall lack of decency. Living as squatters on barren land that had once belonged to their more prosperous ancestors, the Lesters have come to represent in the American public's mind the degradation inherent in extreme poverty. That Caldwell also portrays them as often-comic figures further complicates the reader's response. Tobacco Road is a call to action, but it offers no easy answers and thus has generated intense debate both in and out of the South. Many southerners denounced the novel as exaggerated and needlessly cruel and even pornographic, an affront to the gentility of the region. Northern critics, however, tended to read the book as a serious indictment of a failed economic system in need of correction. Caldwell later explained that the book was not meant to represent the entire South, but for many this work confirmed demeaning southern stereotypes.
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