Howard McEwen

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My Review of Booth Tarkington’s Alice Adams

February 15th, 2012 · No Comments

In the novel the title character is described by the matriarch of a prominent family as pushy.

Mrs. Palmer settled the whole case of Alice carelessly. “A pushing sort of girl,” she said. “A very pushing little person.”

That pushing is the fatal flaw of the Adams family. But it doesn’t reside in Alice’s heart but her mothers. She’s a mother that believes she deserves more and is pushing her family members to get it – whatever that is – for her.

While titled after the daughter I felt as if the novel is about the mother and how her pushing destroyed her family.

She pushes her husband, a kind, appreciative man with no business acumen, into committing a moral if not a legal crime in the launch of a new business. The husband has just recovered from a long unidentifiable sickness and is on the far side of middle age. But his wife pushes.

She pushes her son, a young man just starting in life, against his nature. The son is a bit of a free spirit. His mother pushes him to be what his father wasn’t: a man of business and respectability. Her son just wants to shoot dice and have a good time before the shadow of adult responsibility falls over him.

Then there’s Alice. Much like Willie Loman to Biff she puffs Alice up and constructs grand dreams. She wants Alice to join their town’s high society and not marry some mere trades men. But their family is middle-class at best. It’s a fact felt deeply by both Alice and her mother but they somehow feel themselves entitled to enter the higher society. So they both push.

This pushing leads to deception and repels those that would welcome the Adams just as they are. It destroys the husband’s career. It destroys the son’s prospects. And it destroys a budding romance Alice had with a man who would have loved her just as she was.

Alice, in the end, figures this out. She comes to terms with it and begins the process of earning her way into whatever level she’ll obtain instead of pushing her way into it. Her mother, unfortunately, keeps pushing til the end.

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