Individualism and Belonging to the Family
Anne Tyler's novels The Accidental Tourist and Searching for Caleb are concerned with the family and individualism. In the Accidental Tourist each character undergoes a transformation between individualism and belonging to his family. Individualism means isolation, while family means belonging. Searching for Caleb shows how rules can govern the family. However, in Tyler's Breathing Lessons, two characters are isolated in their own way, but find a way to renew their marriage.
Macon Leary, the main character in The Accidental Tourist, goes back and forth between his family and individualism. When his wife left him after a crazed murderer killed their son, Macon was isolated in his own house with his daily routine. Physical contact with people not related to him made him draw inward like a snail (34). Therefore, he eventually moved in with his sister and brothers to be a part of the family again.
Furthermore, there is a portrait of the Leary children at the Leary household. This portrait symbolizes the security that Macon feels now that he has moved back into the unchanging past (Reisman 1980).
Then Macon met a woman, Muriel, and "he felt content with everything exactly the way it was. He seemed to be suspended, his
life on hold." (161) With Muriel he was isolated from his family. He is an individual who does not need family to rule his life. However, Macon finally returns to his wife and family. He returns because of his desire for attachment to his sister and brothers who live in a tight family unit (Magills 1976).
Several other characters in The Accidental Tourist move back and forth between individuality and the family. Rose Leary, Macon's sister, fell in love with Julian, Macon's boss, who wants to take Rose away from what seems to be a dull life with her family. However, she returns to her family and old life again. On the other hand, Julian changes from individualism to family. He is an individual but happily conforms to the Leary household and the Leary routine.
Therefore, in The Accidental Tourist, Macon transforms from individualism to family a few times throughout the novel. Rose transforms from family to individualism to family again. Finally, Julian transforms from individualism to family.
Tyler's Searching for Caleb is also concerned with individualism and family. Caleb, Justine, and Duncan are individuals who are unable or unwilling to live as family rule dictates. For the Peck family tradition, training, and the past are inescapable (Nesanovich 3339). Rules of behavior govern Peck children. For example, Justine wears a hat because, according to the Pecks, "A lady doesn't go without a hat . . . only common people." (531)
Duncan also proves that rules govern the Pecks when he said:
But our ladies wear hats, by God! And we all have
perfect manners! We may not ever talk to outsiders about anything more interesting than the weather,
but at least we do it politely! And we've all been taught that we disapprove of sports cars, golf, women in slacks,chewing gum, the color chartreuse, emotional displays,ranch houses, bridge, mascara, household pets, religious discussions, plastic, politics, nail polish, transparent gems of
any color, jewelry shaped like animals, checkered prints . . . We're all told from birth on that no Peck has had a cavity in all recorded history has lost a single tooth; that we are punctual even when we're supposed to come late; that we write our bread-and-butter notes no more than an hour after
every visit; that we always say 'Baltimore' instead of 'Balmor'; that even when we're wearing our ragged old gardening clothes you can peal down our collars and see 'Brook Brothers'on the label, and our boots are English and meant for riding though none of us has ever sat on a horse . . . (531)
Eventually, Justine and Duncan, the individualists of the novel, almost settle down because they cannot escape the rules of the Peck family.
Even Daniel feels isolated toward the end of the novel when he says:
It appears my ties to the present have
weakened... I am not overly connected
to my own descendants,
not even to my own granddaughter. (650)
Therefore, Searching for Caleb proves that in order for a community to remain healthy, there must be individuals who refuse to follow its rules, and there must be Pecks providing rules for the individual to defy (Magills 1978).
Moreover, each character in Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons is isolated and different from the rest of the family. However, through their differences they renew their marriage. First, Ira was isolated:
There were times when Ira didn't say a dozen
words all day, and even when he talked you
couldn't guess what he was feeling. He was
a closed isolated man. (251)
Ira also explains he is isolated when he said, "Ah, God, I have been trapped with these people all my life and I am never going to be free." (355) Ira is rational and precise. His hero is Ann Landers, who personifies common sense (Reisman 1981)
Maggie is also isolated. However, she is the exact opposite of Ira. She took life so lightly:
He (Ira) loved her, but he couldn't stand how
she refused to take her life seriously. She seemed
to believe it was some sort of practice life . . . (327)
She felt that she could change the world:
She simply felt as if the world were the tiniest
bit out of focus, the colors not quite within the
lines and if she made the smallest adjustment
then everything would settle perfectly into place.
Therefore, two characters in Breathing Lessons are isolated but saved their marriage.
In conclusion, Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist and Searching for Caleb are novels dealing with individualism, isolation, family, and conformity. Furthermore, two characters in
Breathing Lessons are isolated and very different, but through these differences can save their marriage.
Kelly, Rebecca. "Anne Tyler." Beecham's Poular Fiction.
Wahington, D.C.: Beecham Publishing, 1986: 1381-1386.
Nesanovich, Stella A. "Anne Tyler." Critical Survey of Long Fiction. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.:Salem Press, 1991:3329-
Reisman, Rosemary M. Canfield. "Anne Tyler." Magill's Survey of American Literature. New York: Salem Press, 1991: 1972- 1982.
Tyler, Anne. "The Accidental Tourist." A New Collection. New York: Wings, 1994.
Tyler, Anne "Breathing Lessons." A New Collection. New York: Wings, 1994.
Tyler, Anne. "Searching for Caleb." A New Collection. New York: Wings, 1994.