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William H. GassWilliam H. Gass
(1924- )

Hoosier Connection: Gass was a professer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, from 1954 until 1969. He wrote a short story about life in a fictional small town in West Central, Indiana.

Works Discussed: In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Other Stories

William H. Gass is a professor of philosophy and lived part of his life in Indiana. He was born on July 30, 1924, in Fargo, North Dakota, and soon moved to Warren, Ohio, where he grew up. He began his education at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Gass received his bachelor's degree in Philosophy in 1947, after serving in the Navy during World War II. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1954. He then moved to Indiana and taught at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for fifteen years. Gass is currently teaching Philosophy and English at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Gass's first novel, Omensetter's Luck, was published in 1966 while he was still teaching at Purdue. This novel focused on life in small-town Ohio, and was influenced by his time growing up in Warren.

Two years later, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Short Stories was published. This book is a collection of five short stories, all of which revolve around the themes of loneliness, isolation, and lost love.

The short story entitled "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" takes place in a fictional rural town called "B," Indiana. The narrator, obviously depressed and suffering from loneliness and heartache, describes in great detail the people, scenery, and life in B. The town is fictional, but it is modeled after Gass’s experience with several towns near his home in Indiana.

The narrator tells about the landscape around him. He complains of the usual heat and humidity of an Indiana summer and describes the Wabash River in a drought. In general the atmosphere of the story is reflected in a grimy, bland environment: "[T]he sky in the winter is heavy and close, and it is a rare day...when the sky lifts and lets the heart up" (173).

Even when it snows, nothing improves: “[I]t is snow without any laughter in it.... [O]f course soot covers everything" (192). He mentions that automobile exhaust and litter pollute the streets, and he says the "brick could be beautiful but we cover it with gray industrial vomits" (193). It is apparent that this small town is not out of reach from the air pollution resulting from industrialization. He expresses his disgust of the overpopulated cities, saying that “man has never been a fit environment for man" (193).

Disregard for the land causes trash to accumulate

The narrator describes a row of maples near his house, which have had their tops cut off to avoid interference with electric wires. "These wires offend me. Three trees were maimed on their account, and now these wires deface the sky" (174). He is upset that people must destroy the beauty of natural things for civilization’s material needs. In another example of his disillusionment with Indiana's environment, he characterizes his neighbors as having total disregard for the land: “They will collect piles of possibly useful junk in their yard…give not a hoot for the land…” (182). The town is poor, and "nearby cities have siphoned off all but a neighborhood trade" (189).

Not everything is gloomy. He describes a beautiful fall day full of color. He wonders why anyone would want to live anywhere else. "And it is surely better to live in the country, to live on a prairie by a drawing of rivers...in Indiana, say, than in any city”(192). The narrator feels that although small-town Indiana has its downfalls, it is better than dealing with the more extensive urban sprawl and pollution found in cities. He then points out, however, that the farmers in the country use their chemicals and machines for agriculture, which is also a form of pollution.

Gass is referring to a fictional town in this short story, but at the same time he is referring to all towns in Indiana. For the most part, he presents a pessimistic, depressing view of Indiana's environment. Although these descriptions are accurate to a degree, Gass also expresses an appreciation for Indiana's rural landscapes.



Gass, William H. Dept. of English Home Page. Cornell University. 5 Nov.2002 <http://www.arts.cornell.edu/writers/gass.html>.

---.In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

Hix, H.L. Understanding William H. Gass. Columbia: UP of South Carolina, 2002.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse. Pittsburgh: UP of Pittsburgh, 1982.

Saltzman, Arthur. The Fiction of William Gass: The Consolation of Language. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1986.

"William H. Gass." Washington University in St. Louis.. 30 Sept. 2002 <http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~philos/history/narrative/gass.html>.


Ravid, Joyce. "William H. Gass." Archives, Cornell University. 5 Nov.2002 <http://www.arts.cornell.edu/writers/gass.html>.
Copyright (c) Joyce Ravid.

Smith, Dean. "Disregard for the Land." Personal photograph by the author. 30 Sept. 2002.


Interview with Pif Magazine

Complete Bibliography on New York Review of Books

St. Louis Walk of Fame

1979 Commencement Speech at Washington University