For American Rust, the theme that Philip Meyer explicitly explores in his novel concerns the extent to which circumstances confine people and as such, how humanity is unable to escape situations of life. However, circumstances are constructed around the economic devastation characterizing Buell, a fictional city of Pennsylvania. Therefore, for Meyer, he seems to suggest that despite peoples striving to rise above the confine of the society, something bad always seem to pull them back from the situations and conditions that want are in desperate need to live. The theme is portrayed from the perspective of how the economic conditions derails people quest for freedom and advancement.
Several justifications in the novel depict the extent to which the characters in the Buell town are confined or hindered by the devastating economic conditions. For instance, Isaac English is immersed in the thoughts and future life in Berkeley California, dreaming or focusing on a life beyond the abandoned homes and shuttered factories that are characteristics of Buell city. However, the economic conditions do not allow him the chance to further the dreams because he is currently stuck caring for the father after his sister had escaped to Yale to engage in a loveless marriage. His devastation with taking care of the father is evident from the manner in which Meyer says "He thought his mother must be letting that old bastard move back in" (Meyer 2010, p.22). The two situations are evident; Isaac being stuck to cater for the father and the sister deciding to engage in a loveless marriage. In this sense, Meyer tends to paint the exact picture of the economic devastation as well as the gory conditions within the society which impede individuals from self-advancement.
Nonetheless, Meyer appears to propose that despite the capabilities of people, the current economic conditions do not allow for personal advancement and the novel shows this through Isaac. For instance, Isaac exists as a character which is brilliant, and for the purpose of his caliber, should get the chance in the Ivy League, just like the sister. On the other hand, the same scenario or situation exists with Billy who at his best, should also be in college and as such, exploitation is exemplary football talent to earn him sports scholarship. However, Billy is equally confined by the devastating economic conditions because once he graduates, his enthusiasm and exuberance die, but this is subject to the conditions at Buell. In this case, the forces tangle him up at Bell and as such, do not allow Bill the chance or opportunity for rising beyond the town. The two characters, Billy and Isaac, are ever thinking about their next moves and from this, it is apparently evident that the town derails their progress and the necessity to rise, but all is due to the economic conditions. For instance, the Meyer (2010) states "but in the time since Poe and Isaac were born, the area had lost 150, 000 jobs, most of the towns could no longer afford basic services; many no longer had any police" (p. 8). The situation paints a clear picture of the economic devastation which equally comes back to bite on the characters as obstacles to self-advancement. Furthermore, when Isaacs mother gets the chance to escape Buell mentally and physically, her death is equally painted as confine brought about by the city of which she dies while filling her pockets with rocks and as such, drowning in the river.
Nevertheless, Philip equally portrays Isaac as being lost in the world of thinking about the mother's death, but this equally symbolizes his yearning for moving forward in life or even thinking beyond Buell town. His desire for moving out the economic devastation is first portrayed at the beginning of the novel when Meyer focuses on both the beauty and the devastated world of the character. In this case, the devastation is an indication that Isaac should live the country, while on the other hand, the beauty is a sign that he is finding it hard to live. The explanation of Buell town itself portrays the confines or the limitation towards the individual or personal advancement. For instance, there is the mentioning of muddy river, the mill that acted as a small city but closed in 1987, and described as standing like a ruin, with the description of the plants growing on it like the devils tearthumb, described as it now stood like ancient ruin, its building grown over with bittersweet vine (Meyer 2010, p.3), all indicating a devastated and a town lost in the ruins.
The final justification of how the individuals cannot leave the devastated town is when the Isaac and Billy are planning on catching a freight train out of the town. However, Billy has many doubts with the idea of adventuring. Surprisingly, rain begins falling and forces them to seek shelter within an abandoned factory. Violent run-in occurs, and three tramps end in a murder, thereby altering their plans (Meyer, 2010). For the killings, the wrong person has been blamed and for their course, serving in the old and dying town is only the new meaning that keeps them alive. In this sense, it is quite evident that despite the desire to look at the life beyond, the conditions in Buell, characterized by the economic situation, does not allow individuals the chance for prosperity.
In summary, the Meyer Phillip, using the two central characters, Isaac and Poe, focuses on how the economic devastation at Buell town hinders their personal goals of growth and advancement. In so doing, the individuals in Buell city are left to survive in a city where the economy is dying, and the social conditions are equally getting worse each day. Although Isaac and Billy set out on an adventure, all ends up in a bad way, taking them back to looking for survival in the town.
Meyer, P. (2010). American rust. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
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