Joseph J. Wydeven
With the publication of Plains Song for Female Voices ( 1980), Wright Morris has continued his acute probing into the psychology of American culture, this time by focusing directly on women and their lives within that culture. Plains Song, published just in time for the author's seventieth birthday, is Morris' thirtieth book, and it is a remarkable one, dealing with material which is at once both familiar and new. Morris has often insisted, sometimes to the exasperation of critics, that his works must be seen as a whole, the novels related to each other through sheer accumulation and the recasting of old themes through the light of new and fresh concerns. Despite the difficulties which this presents to critical scholarship, there is an important sense in which that demand must be honored, for Morris has frequently been misunderstood as a novelist and his themes distorted by critical unwillingness to view him as a writer whose themes have been in continuous development from the start, with My Uncle Dudley, in 1942. To a degree which is unusual in American literature, Morris has always reserved the right to change his mind, so that the novels which have already been written become added experiential grist for his mill. Plains Song for Female Voices is another Morris novel which must be put into context for its riches to be examined in a critically satisfying way.
As Plains Song for Female Voices is both about American culture, specifically as it developed on the Nebraska plains, and about the lives of women, it may be useful at this time to focus on Morris' fiction in its perspectives on women and on the relations between the sexes as consequences of that culture. Morris' project in dealing with these issues has been, despite diversity of method, fairly consistent from the outset, that being to delineate and examine that fine point where nature and culture merge and provide sometimes ambiguous conclusions. About women Morris