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Tobacco Road: A Novel (Brown Thrasher Books) Paperback – February 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


Mr. Caldwell's humor, like Mark Twain's, has as its source an imagination that stirs the emotions of the reader.

(New York Herald Tribune)

Caldwell displays a talent which is unique.

(New York Times)

An original, mature approach to people who ignore the civilization that contains them as completely as it ignores them.

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Product Details

  • Series: Brown Thrasher Books
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; Reprint edition (February 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082031661X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820316611
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (288 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 110 people found the following review helpful By The Wingchair Critic on July 2, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Erskine Caldwell's folk carnival 'Tobacco Road' (1932) documents the last days in the lives of Jeeter and Ada Lester, poverty-stricken and permanently befuddled sharecroppers living in rural Georgia during the Great Depression.

The tragic elements, initially almost undiscernable, strike sharply and rapidly in quick lunges before vanishing again beneath the book's brilliant comic surface.

The novel has an archetypal framework: Patriarch Jeeter, dispossessed of his ancestral land, upon which nothing will now grow but "broom sedge and scrub oak," perpetually dreams of bringing his dead and depleted soil to life.

While musing on his farm's infertility, and when not lusting after the women around him, Jeeter, a father of twelve, is preoccupied with ending his own ability to reproduce via self-castration. Like the Hanged Man of the Tarot, habitually procrastinating Jeeter is continually hamstrung and locked in the stupefying eternal moment.

Caldwell is particularly cruel in drawing his female characters: simple-minded and otherwise beautiful daughter Ellie May has a disfiguring harelip; man-crazy, self-appointed preacher Bessie has a good figure and a set of nostrils but no nose, the unnamed, unspeaking grandmother is starved by the other family members, who will no longer acknowledge her; struggling wife Ada, who has not always been faithful, dreams only of having a dress of correct length and current style to be buried in; and twelve year-old child bride Pearl has lost the will to speak and sleeps on the floor to avoid her adult husband's sexual advances.

In contrast, Jeeter and handsome teenage son Dude are merely imbecilic, gullible, and grossly self-serving.
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81 of 90 people found the following review helpful By brewster22 on August 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you were to ask me if I liked "Tobacco Road," my answer would be "I guess so.....I think."
It's hard to decide whether or not I liked this book because it's hard to decide what exactly this book is. It's a wisp of a thing really, about 150 pages of nothing happening. Yet it's not boring. There are parts of it that I found funny, but they are so grotesque that I'm not sure they're supposed to be funny. I wanted to sympathize with these poor, pathetic people living like animals, yet I didn't, because they so frustratingly refuse to do anything to help themselves.
Erskine Caldwell's story involves a couple of days in the life of a dismally poor one-time sharecropper and those members of his family who haven't yet left home, scraping a living out of the dust in Depression-era Georgia. Like I said, not a lot happens in the way of plot until the hurried ending, which feels tacked on by Caldwell at the last minute as if to justify to his readers why they spent their time reading his book.
If you thought the Joads of "The Grapes of Wrath" had it bad, wait until you get a load of the Lesters. This family has none of the dignity displayed by Steinbeck's characters, and it's this difference that ultimately makes the Lesters not worth caring about. Jeeter, the family's patriarch, stubborly refuses to leave his land, even though other poor families are finding opportunities and means for providing for their own families in the nearby mill towns. Jeeter justifies his refusal to leave by taking on a martyred air and feigning a noble attachment to the land, but in reality he's victim to an intensely lazy malaise that will prevent him from ever doing anything to help himself.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Vijay B. Kumar on May 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Tobacco Road must be one of the funniest and yet heart breaking American fiction I have ever read. The patriarch, Jeeter Lester, twentieth century Don Quixote, also a predecessor to Al Bundy, selfish, lazy procrastinator, who would do anything , say anything to have his way. Every year he would plan on tilling his land to grow cotton but he is so broke that no body would lend him any money for seeds or a mule for this endeavor.

He and his wife live in a ramshackle house with two children,18 year old Ellie May who has a congenital deformity and a 16 year old imbecile, Dude, along with Jeeter's mother, who is completely ignored by the family. They had 17 children, 5 died and the rest flew the coop as soon as they could from this mad house except Ellie May and Dude. They have an equally comic neighbor, Bessie, a widow in her late 30's, who ends up marrying Dude. She lures Dude by promising him a brand new car with the money she received from her husband's insurance. She is a promiscuous nit wit and pretends to be a preacher! This "preaching", she contends is inherited from her husband. Using this logic she wants to marry Dude and make him a preacher.

Jeu d'es-prit of the book is when Jeeter, Bessie and Dude take the brand new automobile to Augusta to sell wood and end up spending the night in a sleazy motel, where Bessie is taken to different rooms by various men. Jeeter and Dude sleep in one bed, wondering why the motel owner keeps changing Bessie's room and why don't they leave her alone so she can get some rest. However, Bessie never complaints.

The book reminded me of Steinbeck's unforgettable paisanos of Tortilla Flat. It is a MUST read.
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