God’s Little Acre
A Novel by Erskine Caldwell
Foreword by Lewis Nordan
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About the book
Like Tobacco Road, this novel chronicles the final decline of a poor white family in rural Georgia. Exhorted by their patriarch Ty Ty, the Waldens ruin their land by digging it up in search of gold. Complex sexual entanglements and betrayals lead to a murder within the family that completes its dissolution. Juxtaposed against the Waldens’ obsessive search is the story of Ty Ty’s son-in-law, a cotton mill worker in a nearby town who is killed during a strike.
First published in 1933, God’s Little Acre was censured by the Georgia Literary Commission, banned in Boston, and once led the all-time best-seller list, with more than ten million copies in print.
About the author
Erskine Caldwell (1903–1987) was born in Newnan, Georgia. He became one of America’s most widely read, prolific, and critically debated writers, with a literary output of more than sixty titles. At the time of his death, Caldwell’s books had sold eighty million copies worldwide in more than forty languages. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1984.
- The title of Caldwell’s novel refers to a plot of land set aside by Ty Ty Walden for religious purposes. Discuss the inherent hypocrisy in Ty Ty’s willingness to move “God’s little acre” to avoid striking gold and having to give it to the church.
- What do you make of Ty Ty’s defense for his behavior: “It ain’t so important that I get money out of God’s little acre to give to the church and the preacher, it’s just the fact that I set that up in His name. . . . That’s the sign that God’s in my heart.” (p. 188) What does this say about Ty Ty’s beliefs? About Caldwell’s?
- Ty Ty hopes the divine power of an albino named Dave—the “all-white man”—will help him strike gold. However, he claims to go about his digging scientifically and without the use of “conjur.” What is Caldwell trying to demonstrate through this clash of beliefs? Moreover, why does Ty Ty have “gold-fever?” What makes him want to keep digging?
- Pluto Swint is lazy, cowardly and bashful, yet ends up with the bold and extravagant Darling Jill. What about his personality is admirable? What might she love about him? Is her acceptance of him a positive or negative point?
- What pushes Will Thompson to turn the power back on in the mill of the company town? Explain the following quote spoken by Will to Pluto: “You don’t know what a company town is like, then. But I’ll tell you. Have you ever shot a rabbit, and gone and picked him up, and when you lifted him in your hand, felt his heart pounding like—like, God, I don’t know what!” (p. 153)
- Is the principled proletariat of Caldwell’s Carolina mill town believable? Would a starving town hold out eighteen months in the fight against a “dollar ten” wage? Do you think the author is guilty of over-romanticizing the working poor? What is his point?
- Do you agree with Caldwell’s take on “manliness” as captured in the story? Griselda tells Ty Ty that he and Will were real men because they actually said “those things about what a man would want to do when he saw [her].” (p. 181) What does she mean?
- Consider Ty Ty’s short speech (p. 183) about the power of feeling over reason. Do you think these are also Caldwell’s beliefs? If so, is he right? What is the role of God or religion in such a view?
- This novel, first published in 1933, was banned and censured, yet also topped the best-seller list. Discuss Caldwell’s use of overt sexuality. How does it strengthen both his writing and the story? To what extent is it vulgar or excessive? Profound or appealing?
- God’s Little Acre is Erskine Caldwell’s second novel. It certainly resembles his first, Tobacco Road, in terms of plot and tone. Consider how the latter follows a similar formula, yet also how it is more innovative and skillfully composed than the first. If you have not read the other novel, simply choose which passages you feel might best illustrate this statement from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Caldwell writes with a full-bodied, gutsy vitality that makes him akin to the truly great—to the Balzacs, the Zolas, all the vigorous brotherhood who have made the novel what it is.”