First hundred pages: Truman’s extended adolescence

Okay, that title is a bit misleading. In some ways, by the end of the third chapter, Harry is absolutely an adult. He is 30 years old, has been more or less running his father’s farm for ten years, has had various financial involvements and at least half a dozen different jobs. Farming is hard work, and he has developed lifelong habits of waking early and working hard. He’s also (secretly) engaged to his dearest Bess.

But he still pines for the big bucks, he has made some really bad investments, taking on unnecessary debts, and is totally devoted to his mum. (He really, really, really digs his car, too.) The bits we get from his letters to Bess reflect a small scale discontent, an abiding expectation that there really must be more out there. McCullough writes that “He had reached a point, in fact, where he might have gone off in any of several directions with his life, given the opportunity.” (p. 97)

This sounds like me. And all my friends. We are kind of adults, paying our own bills, working whatever jobs we can find or find ourselves thrust into, but still longing to find something meaningful, something to define ourselves. We aren’t working dawn to dusk on the farm (though some of my friends have tried that out, too), but we’re all struggling along.

Of course, I’m pretty sure we’re about to see how The War shaped Truman into the man-who-would-be-president. But maybe I am just trying to find a way where I could still be president, if I wanted to.

(As an aside, I have been thinking a lot about the Myths of the Olde Midwest McCullough includes in the description of Truman’s family history and early years. There’s a big bad villain in the family history, who was killed in a shootout with the town lawman; there are allusions to the trails headed further west; there are hard winters on the cold prairie. There are pies and picnics and piano lessons. There are dens of iniquity in the big city. Is this just like, the most appealing way possible to look at this era of history, or was it really like that? I know, that’s a totally naive question, but still. It does make an interesting contrast to the early life story of someone like Barack Obama — like, Truman’s upbringing was all of the things that we pretend America is made of. Maybe all the things that America used to be made of?)

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About Kelly

Librarchivist and more.
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2 Responses to First hundred pages: Truman’s extended adolescence

  1. Kathryn says:

    Oh Kells you are going to blow me away with your posts.

    I don’t know – thinking about the midwest mythology, it didn’t really seem all roses. I mean, he happens to come from a rather ambitious family, and a town that at the time was pretty small. I mean, it’s pretty easy to develop a hardcore family mythology when you are one of the older families in town. Also I would imagine McCullough is playing with that a little bit. He’s not big on mythologizing… I mean, Truman IS silly and naive and a homebody, country boy. It would make sense that his childhood was idealistic in actuality – I don’t see how it would be possible to grow into that sort of person otherwise.

  2. Kelly says:

    Oh yes. I don’t think McCullough is mythologizing, it’s more that Truman’s story echoes with all these implausible tropes of the American, and specifically Midwestern, past. You’re right, he *is* a country boy. I think I’m just struggling with my own skepticism here, about country boys ever actually existing.

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