I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about Alice Adams. She isn’t Georgie Minafer….but not for lack of trying. She has all the ability to be condescending, to value style over substance. But because she is from a middle-class family, yet she wants to (and tries to) move in upper class circles, all her pretensions become pathetic. She cannot remain full of herself for long, since the reality of how badly she is snubbed, how often she is laughed at, how out of place she often is, breaks through that facade and she feels something.
I’m not sure how I feel about this, in large part because I don’t know if I can trust Tarkington. I worry that perhaps I’m supposed to root against Alice, and I don’t particularly want to find joy and humor in her being knocked down a peg by people (like her “most intimate friend”, the snobbish Mildred) who have it better than her to begin with. But it’s also hard to hope that she triumphs in the end, since she has a personality that would use greater influence and prestige in the wrong way, I think. So I’m left to feel vague sympathy with Alice, and wonder what the point of the story is.
Tarkington’s racism, which I’d mentioned being bothered by while reading Ambersons, is even more prevalent here. If I knew better what to make of Walter, Alice’s unpleasant but probably wise brother, I’d know how to react to his simultaneously bashing Alice for never talking with African-Americans while describing those same African-Americans with some really unpleasant slurs. I don’t know how these words were taken in 1922, but it’s hard for me to get comfortable with the conversation, mostly because I feel sure that Tarkington won’t really engage with race, won’t really try and alter the perceptions of his characters (or his readers) about race, but instead will use occasional stereotypical “colored people” to liven up the plot, and will otherwise ignore them.
Alice is desperate for a man, but the man who wants her, she doesn’t want. Alice treasures her close friendships, though as her brother points out, none of them are friends of hers, and all of them look down on her. Alice constantly berates her mother for causing stress to her father, and then stresses her father out. I don’t know what to make of her, and I fear I’m in another “redemption” plot-line that I will scarcely be able to believe. I hope I’m wrong. We’ll see.