This loss of identity is what makes me wonder whether or not we are supposed to be rooting for her or pitying her. Is this a cautionary tale about social climbing? Who would have been the target demographic for this novel? Other women like Alice Adams or the women with whom she was competing? Maybe Tarkington didn't have a message at all. Maybe he was simply telling a common tale that he knew others could relate to: Cautious and loyal father, pushy and silly mother, whimsical and fanciful daughter, and the rebellious son all trapped in a social structure that only favors those who are BOTH lucky and intelligent. I'd imagine this story would have been very amusing (and perhaps inspiring) for any of the literate souls of the Europe's working class. I could see a studious and industrious coal miner in 1920s Wales reading this while thinking, "If given the chance, MY family would have made it!"
The other striking characteristic of this book was that the "help" was given a bit of a voice. And while that voice was mostly relegated to the background of the story, it wasn't passive or complacent. The Black American characters in this novel had wit, snark, and a bite to them that wasn't immediately shut down by the author as being impudent. He seemed to feel they had a right to speak their few lines. Even if the majority of the characters didn't respect them as equals, Tarkington seemed to understand that behind the spoken "yessuh's" there was a definite mood of "I'm only doing my job. I don't actually think you are better than me" that I thought I would have to wait until The Color Purple to find. To say the very least, it was refreshing. I'm sure I will want to rip my hair out at the shucking and jiving that is soon to come in Gone With the Wind.