Yonnondio: From the Thirties

One for All in Yonnondio

In contrast to many other Depression-era novels, in which the teamwork of the common man is seen as society's glue, Tillie Olsen's Yonnondio looks with great admiration at one family's struggle to keep above water. Through the travails of a coal-mining/farming family, Anna Holbrook becomes the one constant in a society that turns man against himself, and where fortune is evanescent.

The thirst for something stable is evident as the children show their awe of the physical world. As an adult explains the stars to Mazie, Olsen writes: "As his words misted into the night and disappeared, she scarcely listenedonly the aura over them of timelessness, of vastness, of eternal things that had been before her and would be after her, remained and entered into her with a great hurt and wanting." (33) The present, the words describing the stars, hold no intrigue for Mazie; the idea of a permanence stronger than the Depression does. Two pages later, Olsen writes of Mazie stripping corn silk: "she would dream of weaving it into garments incredible. But the tassells withered, grew brown and smelly, and she had to throw them away." (35) Her actual life results only in death, and she must again call up something...

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