The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)

by Booth Tarkington

The Magnificent Ambersons won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 but isn’t much read today. That’s a shame, because it still has something to say about wealth and status.

Protagonist George Amberson Minafer is the only grandchild of the most prominent citizen in the turn-of-the-century Midwestern town of Midland. Conceited and obnoxious, he derides the new-money families whose wealth comes from enterprise. Being things is better than doing things, he believes, wanting to continue a life of idle privilege. He fails to accept that the world is changing, and in his obtuseness loses the girl he loves, the daughter of an automobile entrepreneur, because she admires those who do things. In a very short time, George’s world is turned upside down.

The Magnificent Ambersons shows how quickly America was changed by industrialization, but it is not just a period piece. Its theme of being done in by a sense of entitlement is relevant in any age. 

Midland was supposedly based on the Woodruff Place neighborhood of Indianapolis, Booth Tarkington’s hometown.


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