copyright 1932; Grosset & Dunlap publishers; hardbound; very good condition with unmarked pages; boards very good with minor fading; no dust jacket.
Tobacco Road is a 1932 novel by Erskine Caldwell about Georgia sharecroppers. It was dramatized for Broadway by Jack Kirkland in 1933, and ran for eight years; as of 2014, it was still the 18th longest-running Broadway show in history as well as being the second-longest running non-musical ever on Broadway.
A 1941 film version, deliberately played mainly for laughs, was directed by John Ford, and the storyline was considerably altered. The novel was included in Life magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–1944.
Plot Introduction -
Tobacco Road is set in rural Georgia, several miles outside Augusta during the worst years of the Great Depression. It depicts a family of poor white tenant farmers, the Lesters, as some of the many small Southern cotton farmers made redundant by the industrialization of production and the migration into cities. The main character of the novel is Jeeter Lester, an ignorant and sinful man who is redeemed by his love of the land and his faith in the fertility and promise of the soil.
Plot Summary -
Lov Bensey, a friend of the Lesters, walks to his home at the train yard coal chute. He has walked seven and a half miles to get a sack of winter turnips for 50 cents, which is half of his daily wage. On his way home, he stops by the Lesters to talk to Jeeter about Jeeter's 12-year-old daughter Pearl, to whom Lov is married. While Lov is talking to Jeeter, the book introduces the reader to 16-year-old Dude, the youngest of the Lester boys; Ada, Jeeter’s wife; Grandma Lester; and Ellie May, an 18-year-old girl with a grotesque cleft lip. The entire family, acting in complete desperation, works to steal the turnips from Lov, who then becomes nauseated by the sight and leaves for home.
At this point, the preacher Bessie enters the scene. Sister Bessie Rice, like Ellie May, also has a deformity of the face. Bessie’s nose contains no bone, and so when looking straight at her face one can see straight into her nostrils, like a pig. Despite this, Jeeter is still attracted to her. She does some preaching and praying for everyone’s sins, and then proposes marriage to Dude. However, Dude is more interested in her offer of letting him drive the new automobile that she anticipates purchasing than in actually marrying her. Bessie then goes home to her hovel to ask God whether or not she and Dude should get married.
Jeeter has lived on the same plot of land since he was born, and even though his standard of living continues to decline until he and his family begin to starve, Jeeter stubbornly refuses to move to the city to make a better life for himself by working in a cotton mill. Such a life, he insists, would be impossible for him to live.
Alongside Jeeter’s preoccupation with farming the land is his preoccupation with his own imminent death. Ada as well is fixated on her death, but their morbidity does not take the form of lamentation or self-pity. Ada's main concern is that she not be buried in her tattered, old, out-of-style calico dress, and Jeeter's main concern is that his body not be left in the old corn storage shed where it might be eaten by rats. He has had a terrible phobia of rats ever since he saw his dead father’s face half-eaten by a rat the day of his funeral. Neither of these two characters have any doubts that they are going to die sometime soon, and it is not their present life but their lifeless bodies which they care about most. Possibly they realize that their way of life is already dead; thus their primary concern becomes not the preservation of that life but its appearance during burial...