The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow

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The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow is the story of one woman whose genius is undermined by those surrounding her. Gertie Nevels, a tall, big-boned woman raised in the Appalacian region of Kentucky is creative, self-sufficient, strong, and resourceful. In her native home, Gertie creates for herself an atmosphere where she is able to survive any situation and has everything under control. As Wilton Eckley states in “From Kentucky to Detroit“, a chapter in his novel, Harriette Arnow, “Certainly while the family is living in Kentucky, she [Gertie] is self-sufficient and has no fear that she will be unable to get along if Clovis is called to join all the other younger men of the community in the service”
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In fact, when the officers are about to call a tow truck because their car is hanging over the bluff, it is Gertie who suggests that they “heist it up with a jack, git rocks under them wheels, and back up on th road” (12; ch. 1). By exhibiting her practical skills, Gertie shows herself as having superior determination and will above that of the soldiers. Presenting further ability, as cited by Kathleen Walsh in her article entitled Free Will and Determinism in Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker, she shows “competence for life,” as she “performs a rude tracheotomy on her choking child while a horrified Army general looks on” (92).

Eckley describes Gertie’s home in Kentucky as living in “a rented piece of poor land and, like many others around them, [having] to struggle constantly just to exist” (85). Although here Gertie’s talents are not recognized as of any worth other than for practical use, she is able to exert her strength of character as she works on the farm and raises her children, teaching each of them to read and write. She is smart enough to save up the money to buy the Tipton place, saving wherever she could; however, she “keeps her plans for the Tipton Place secret, fearing that if Clovis knew of her savings, he would use the money for a truck” (Walsh 93). Her husband, Clovis, is the worst to over-look her talents, only seeing them as what profit he can gain from them. When Gertie is waiting with her son Amos in the doctor’s office,
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