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B A R B A R A M E L D R U M University of Idaho Structure and Meaning in S. K. Winther’s Beyond the Garden Gate Sophus Keith Winther’s fourth published novel, Beyond the Garden Gate (1946), represents a substantial shift from his earlier Grimsen trilogy (published 1936-38), which dealt with the Danish immigrant experience in Nebraska. The earlier novels revealed the inspiration of autobiography, whereas Beyond the Garden Gate suggests the inspiration of an idea. It is a thesis novel which tackles head-on a central problem of our age: how is man to guide his life when the old absolutes have given way to relativism, when science has replaced religion, when society still continues to judge according to an outmoded morality? As might be expected in such a novel, the structure is crucial to the tale, for herein lies the ex­ amination of the problem and the solution. The story is a relatively simple one of boy meets girl, girl “gets into trouble,” and—but there is where the story departs from the usual account of such all-too-common situations. The boy, Forrest Bailey, has in the meantime met his true love; but she does not desert or disown or condemn him when she “finds out” ; nor does Forrest’s family censure him— even when his brother’s fiancée throws a moral tantrum and breaks her engagement. Nor— wonder of wonders— do the pregnant girl’s parents in any way censure Forrest or urge a shotgun marriage. And yet there is a very strong sense that “sin” has been committed, and life from now on must be lived beyond the gate of the garden. Winther achieves this realization largely by a number of structural factors. One of the most obvious aspects of structure lies in the choice of characters. We come to know two families intimately, and an­ other less well. The Baileys are enlightened, modern, intelligent people; the parents are university graduates, yet the family busi­ ness is in a sense close to the soil— Tom Bailey runs a farm im­ 192 Western American Literature plement-hardware store in Eugene, Oregon. The old family farm of grandfather Bailey eventually plays a fairly important role in the story, and the great-grandfather was a farming pioneer from Iowa. These ties with the land are important, for they are con­ sistent with the recognition granted to natural forces and with the health of mind and body associated with nature. The Haileys are sturdy farm folk, long-time friends of the Baileys, eminently good and sensible people who radiate faith in the brotherhood of man (see pp. 267,269).1 They reveal by their lives that education is no prerequisite to goodness. Their daughter, Nancy, does more to seduce Forrest than he does to achieve her favors; but she is not cunning or calculating. Rather, she has grown up admiring For­ rest and naively expecting to be his wife; her actions are a natural manifestation of her affection, and she expects to become a mother as naturally as she expects the farm animals to bear young. Both the Baileys and the Haileys demonstrate a oneness of man with Nature. Indeed, Winther’s descriptions of the Willamette Valley setting are lush and vivid. He suggests that both Eugene and Port­ land at the time of the story (mid-1920’s) are cities that are “still a part of Nature. Nature’s power to elevate the mind to the gran­ deur of passion was not destroyed for them.” (p. 26) T o a citizen of Eugene, it was well nigh impossible to miss “the knowledge that man and the earth are one, inseparable” (p. 95). The Baileys in their garden and the Haileys on their farm embody this notion. However, the Whittleworths are not in tune with Nature. Young Mercy Whittleworth is engaged to Forrest’s brother, Bruce; but she lacks the individuality and moral stamina to take the crush­ ing news of the Bailey family’s disgrace. Mr. Whittleworth, the banker, is the all-too-typical skinflint of small town finance, fore­ closer of mortgages and scion of a legalistic morality. The comparison -contrasts...


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pp. 191-202
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