Harriette Arnow was born in Wayne County, Kentucky, in 1908 and lived until 1986. A short-story writer, novelist, and social historian, Arnow attended Berea College from 1924 to 1926, taught in one-room school in Southeast Kentucky, and earned a BS degree from the University of Louisville in 1930. She moved to Cincinnati in 1934 and began writing. In 1939, she married Harold B. Arnow, and the couple had two children. They moved to Detroit in 1944, a migration route that is reflected in her most important work, The Dollmaker (1954). Arnow conducted research on the Cumberland area and wrote two volumes of social history, Seedtime on the Cumberland (1960) and Flowering of the Cumberland (1963). Other works include The Weedkiller's Daughter (1970) and her last novel, The Kentucky Trace, in 1974 (Eckley 1974, 41-42). Mountain Path (1936) is a novel that establishes a contrast between the Kentucky hill people of Cal Valley and the outside “civilized” world. According to Eckley, The Mountain Path “represents in Southern-mountain fiction a break with the sentimentalism that marked that genre for so long” (54). Hunter's Horn (1949), set in the Kentucky hills, is the story of a hunter's obsession and of the desire of the hill people for a better life for their children.
Glenda Hobbs assesses Arnow's contribution to American fiction: “Like Twain and Faulkner, she creates a private world whose inhabitants face dilemmas reaching beyond geographical boundaries.” Nowhere do we see these dilemmas any more clearly than in The Dollmaker.
Dorothy Lee sees the critical nexus of The Dollmaker as the journey from the Edenic Kentucky hills to the urban hell of Detroit. Lee also notes that “[e]ven more agonizing” than the physical realities of the Detroit poverty “are the psychological traumas effected by the pressures toward conformity, mechanization, and competition.”
The Dollmaker (1954) is a novel firmly set in the realistic palate of the mid-twentieth century. Gertie Nevels, the main character, who has an art that must