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G. B. C R U M P Central Missouri State University Wright Morris, Author in Hiding In Earthly Delights, Unearthly Adornments (EDUA), Wright Morris presents a telling portrait, or at least thumbnail sketch, of the artist as a young child, and he repeats it at the start of Will’s Boy (W B), the first of his three volumes of memoirs: “The small creatures of this world, and not a few of the large ones, are only at their ease under something. . . . in the Platte Valley of Nebraska, street culverts, piano boxes, the seats of wagons . . . the dark caves under the front porches were all favored places of con­ cealment. With Br’er Fox I shared the instinct to lie low. Seated in dust as fine as talcum . . . I peered out at the world through the holes between the slats'’ (6). The adult writer’s decision to give this sketch of the author as child such a primary place in his memoirs underscores its importance to his mature thinking about the nature of the artist and the imaginative process. Indeed, the image of the child peeking out at a prospect framed like a picture by the porch slats reflects some of Morris’s central aesthetic pre­ occupations and points both to his interest in photography and to the situa­ tion of many of his characters—from Brady, looking out through the window of a sleeping car in The Works of Love, to the tourists staring at the center of the bullring in The Field of Vision.1 The image of the hidden child appears prominently in Morris’s memoirs— Will’s Boy, Solo, and A Cloak of Light (CL)—where its psy­ chological roots in his experience are revealed and its implications for some of his characteristic themes and narrative methods are illustrated. The image has two sets of connotations in Morris, one clustering around the nature of the view seen from hiding and mixed up with his feelings about his mother, and the second clustering around the situation and character of the viewer and linked to his feelings about his father. It therefore pro­ vides an important unifying thread in his autobiographical writings. 4 Western American Literature The framed tableau observed by the child so clearly evokes Morris’s experiments with photographs and “photographic” narrative style that it is like a signature. Those familiar with the author would recognize that “Will’s Boy” is Wright Morris upon reading the passage where the boy “rub[s] a hole in the frosted window and peer[s] out” at the black and white world of a Nebraska December night (WB 8). The significance of such observed scenes soon becomes apparent: “If I had faculties of a different order” (WB 10), Morris writes, he would have pondered the Doppler effect of a train whistle, “but I preferred the shimmering fragment of suspended time that I saw through the porch slats where the train had just been, but was no more” (WB 11). The Doppler effect and the speed­ ing train exist in and confirm the reality of time, but the child-viewer longs for the illusion of “suspended time” created by focusing on a segment of framed space so narrow that motion and thus time seem to be excluded from it. Will’s Boy turns out to be an “Intimations Ode” with an arid plains flavor. It opens with a jumble of such “fragments of suspended time,” rendered in the present tense to suggest the illusion of timelessness conveyed in photos, and near the end of Chapter One, as the child Morris sits in a doctor’s window waiting for tapeworm medicine to work, he contemplates a “serene tableau, [which] like those I observed through the side slats of the porch, will join the select views that grow brighter rather than dimmer” (WB 16). The serene tableau, as recollected years later, seems “brighter,” more vivid and permanent, than the products of adult experience because it is pure and untroubled experience, uncontaminated by the world which is too much with us as adults and unencumbered by the analytical con­ sciousness and mature cares that world arouses in us. Readers of Morris the man will...


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