By Jay Parini
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Additional info for American Writers, Supplement VI
In characteristic Dillard fashion, one of the most prominent descriptive details assumes metaphoric significance. Everywhere she goes in China, Dillard sees trees, a precious national resource, carefully watered and protected in an environment that is hostile at best, "a kind of packed dust. " By contrast, in the United States, trees are so common they are ignored, needing little care. " The tactful image of the trees evokes the differences between the two countries: in the poor country, life flourishes in spite of the hostile environment; in the wealthy one, life flourishes although people are unconscious of its lushness and their own neglect.
Lewis, which her minister had loaned her. Emerging from her sometimes contradictory early experiences, her narratives as a whole reveal the ability of the writer to hold opposites in balance, to find value in and admire what she simultaneously critiques. As she observes after having described a woman at the country club who refused to wash her face all summer in order to maintain her tan, "There was real beauty to the old idea of living and dying where you were born. " Embodying the American myth of the self-made man, the famously wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie funded many great public works projects in the city, including libraries, a museum of natural history, music hall, and art gallery.
In a passage reminiscent once again of Emily Dickinson's affirmation of the writer's volcanic power to destroy and create, Dillard imagines her typewriter "erupting": "The old green Smith-Corona typewriter on the table was exploding with fire and ash. Showers of sparks shot out of its caldera—the dark hollow in which the keys lie. Smoke and cinders poured out, noises exploded and spattered, black dense smoke rose up, and a wild, deep fire lighted the whole thing. " Comic in its hyperbole, this passage simultaneously signals the author's understanding of writing's explosive power.
American Writers, Supplement VI by Jay Parini