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N A N C Y N E L S O N M c C O R D Albion College Manfred’s Elof Lofblom “Stubby red-faced Elof Lofblom” is M anfred’s description of his protagonist in Chapter 1 of The Chokecherry Tree.1 Not much of a hero, one might say of Elof. Indeed, the reader of The Chokecherry Tree sees Elof Lofblom initially as a young man who, coming home to Siouxland after failing in the world of the 1930’s Depression, accepts the ordinary, apparently unheroic existence of a gas station owner in Choke­ cherry Corner. Despite his mother’s visions of his greatness as a “chosen one” of God — future “domeny” of the town — and despite his own self-illusions about his kinship to Smollett’s picaro hero, Peregrine Pickle, Elof remains “a young man who has looked for a place in this world without finding one” (CT, Delbert Wylder, p. vii). A young man inept with women, Elof is small of stature and genitalia, possessing a “stubby big toe” which, by local lore, indicates that “you would never be boss in your family” (CT, p. 14). However, if we accept Elof as essentially unheroic, as “not destined for the life of a picaro” (Wylder, p. xi), we ignore what is essential to M anfred’s novel: that Elof’s search for heroism (in the popular terms suggested by the character of Peregrine Pickle) in many ways ironically parallels Peregrine’s adventures. The journeys of the two young men are indeed comparable, and in his own personal journey, Elof is perhaps the greater hero of the two. F red erick M anfred, The Chokecherry Tree, introd. by Delbert E. Wylder (A lbuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), p. 6. All subsequent refer­ ences to this novel will be taken from this edition and cited in the body of the text. 126 Western American Literature While Manfred treats various examples of popular heroism in the later Buckskin M an Tales — Yankton braves such as Conquering Horse, frontiersmen such as Lord Grizzly, and cattle rangers such as Cain Hammett — the definition of heroism as it exists in The Chokecherry Tree represents M anfred’s earlier, more incidentally autobiographical examination of heroism in the ordinary man. As Robert C. Wright sees him, Elof is a “comic figure . . . , a little man who escapes tragedy through a noble acceptance of life.”2 Another instance of this “ordinary heroism” in the early Manfred is Pier Frixen of This is the Year, who though he exhibits shortsightedness in both human relations and the treatment of his land, doggedly continues to hope that “this year” will be the big year for successful crop production. At the end of the novel, having lost his land and his wives, he nevertheless heroically holds on to hope in the form of his son, whom he plans to visit in the city. His last comment in the novel is “shucks, after all, I’m a young buck yit. My heart’s still green.”3 Likewise, Manfred shows this kind of ordinary heroism in Elof, many of whose experiences were M anfred’s in the summer of 1936: I took a lot of those things that had happened to me that summer and sardonically put it all into a small guy because I felt small all that summer long Manfred states in Conversations.* Thus The Chokecherry Tree repre­ sents M anfred’s early autobiographical examination of heroism. The actual structures of The Chokecherry Tree and Peregrine Pickle share the basic characteristics of the romance. As Northrop Frye defines it, the romance journey consists of the hero’s descent from a higher to a lower world and his ultimate ascent with the plot’s happy resolution.5 Thus, Peregrine is alienated from a hateful mother and a weak father at an early age, spiritually orphaned, and adopted by his Uncle Trunnion. His many schoolboy pranks and amorous escapades which Elof finds so fascinating lead “Perry” into dangerous situations, and although he falls in love with the ideal Emilia, he nevertheless con2Robert C. W right, Frederick Manfred, (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979), p. 40. 3Frederick M anfred, This is the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 125-134
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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