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The Field of Vision

by Wright Morris

Original Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & Company
Current Publisher:
University of Nebraska Press

Harold Augenbraum writes:

Except for Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, no one seems to remember novels about bullfights. Perhaps Hemingway’s late Romantic view of the gelded war-fighter versus the potent matador—so elemental, so asqueroso—lingers in the mind more than the comparatively domestic problems of a group of Midwesterners on holiday in Mexico, witnessing a quasi-comic killing of a bull, doused with Pepsi-Cola (now there’s a metaphor for American vantage-points), and harkening back to their own impotence. Morris was also an acclaimed photographer and won the National Book Award twice, but he is virtually unknown outside his native Nebraska. His centennial is on the Feast of the Epiphany next year.

Image plays a great role in The Field of Vision, as one can imagine from the title. The main characters are “present” at a bullfight, but beyond that activity and the actions of the people around them lie the “absent” acts and events of their own lives back in the States, mainly in Nebraska, almost all in The Great Plains. Each re-conjures these images—i.e., makes them present—in reaction to fractional incidents on the actual field of vision, i.e., the corrida. The “field of vision” itself is infinitized by memory. They all wanted to be happy, they had the potential to be happy, but no one succeeded. Now here they are in Mexico on vacation, a family with skeletons in pursuit, followed by America to this most Mexican of spectacles.

Question: why Pepsi-Cola and not Coca-Cola?

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.

ISBN: 9780803257894

Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • Nelson Algren for A Walk on the Wild Side
  • James Baldwin for Giovanni's Room
  • Saul Bellow for Seize the Day
  • B.J. Chute for Greenwillow
  • A.B. Guthrie for These Thousand Hills
  • John Hersey for A Single Pebble
  • John Hunt for Generations of Men
  • Edwin O'Connor for The Last Hurrah
  • J.F. Powers for The Presence of Grace
  • Elizabeth Spencer for The Voice at the Back Door
  • James Thurber for Further Fables for Our Time

Fiction Judges that Year: Robert Gorham Davis, Leslie Fiedler, Oliver LaFarge, W.G. Rogers, Peter Taylor

The Year in Literature:

  • The Pulitzer Prize was not given for Fiction.
  • Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:

Wright Morris created a genre that he called “photo-text”: a juxtaposition of photographs with fictional text. From 1940 to 1941, Morris toured the U.S. taking photographs that he would present in The Inhabitants (1946). His second photo-text, The Home Place (1948), depicted Morris's uncle's farm in words and photos.

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