Study Guide

Angle of Repose Quotes

  • Family

    I am much of what [...] my grandparents were—inherited stature, coloring, brains [...] and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and not familial. (1.1.3)

    It's immediately clear that Lyman is trying to work through some serious family issues by writing this book about his grandparents. Although we don't yet know the nature of these "moral errors" that bother him so much, we sure hope he manages to figure them out when everything is said and done.

    She loved to have him stretch out beside her in the evening [...] He looked upon the baby with awe, and handled him as if he might break. (2.5.46)

    At first, Susan and Oliver have the perfect little family. They have a happy marriage. They have a brand-new baby boy. They even have an adorable little house. It's like a dream. But here's the unfortunate thing about dreams—they all eventually end.

    "Of course you make the decisions. You tell him how life is to go. If you didn't you'd be up in the Andes right now." (3.4.9)

    Although she doesn't realize it, Susan is the real boss of the Ward family. This realization upsets her, not simply because she had assumed that her marriage was perfectly balanced, but also because it forces her to make some important decisions about her family's future.

    They were a family that, simply because they could hire, acquired the direction of other lives. Like the climate and the altitude, they were an arm of destiny. (4.9.4)

    Over the course of their adventures, the Ward family grows to include the many people who are hired to help around the house. You know who we're talking about: Pricey, Frank, Charley Wan, and the rest of the gang. They might not be related by blood, but there's no disputing the tight bond that holds them together.

    My mother died when I was two, my father was a silent and difficult man: I grew up my grandparents' child. (5.1.1)

    Talk about burying the lede, Lyman: this insight explains a ton about the nature of his relationship with his family. Additionally, it also helps us understand why he is putting so much effort into this book about his grandparents.

    The impatience she created in him troubled her [...] For her own sake and the children's sake and for his sake she had to be sensible. (6.2.67)

    Susan and Oliver's marriage is far from perfect. Oliver loves his fam more than anything, which sometimes leads him to take foolish risks in attempts to build better lives for them. Susan, on the other hand, knows that this mindset will only lead to more hardships for the whole Ward clan. It's a sticky situation.

    "I believe he looks upon us as his family. Is it not queer, and both desolating and comforting, how, with all associations broken, one forms new ones, as a broken bone thickens in healing." (7.3.82)

    Susan is talking about Charley Wan here, by the way. It's interesting: Susan was actually a bit racist toward Chinese immigrants when she first encountered them, but now she considers a Chinese man to be a beloved member of her family. This is yet another reminder that family isn't always about blood bonds and all that stuff—it's about community.

    She did not want this baby. It made her desolate to think what it would be born into. (7.4.46)

    Good grief—things have really changed. What happened to the blissfully happy family we met so many chapters ago? How could things have gotten so bad in such a short amount of time?

    Feeling [...] drove him across the bridge against the warnings of his conscience—a horrified sympathy for his mother's pain [...]. (7.4.164)

    Even when things are rough between mommy and daddy, Susan and Oliver can count on their children. Although it doesn't seem like it at times, young Ollie loves his mama more than anything in the whole entire world. After all, they're a family.

    "He works far too hard; he always has. It is a thing I have sometimes held against him, that his family must come second to his job." (8.3.10)

    This is one of Susan's most common complaints about Oliver, but we can't help but feel like she misunderstands her husband. Even though it might have negative consequences, Oliver's seemingly inexhaustible work ethic comes from his love for his family. He does it for them, not because he's just a workaholic.

  • Memory and the Past

    And this is all [...] I am going to think about it. I am going back to Grandmother's nineteenth century, where the problems and the people are less messy. (3.1.75)

    Lyman lays out his mission statement so clearly that he pretty much does all of our work for us. C'mon, dude. Basically, the guy is delving into his grandparents' past because his life in the present is way too much for him to deal with. Unfortunately for him, he'll soon learn that the past isn't all that neat and tidy, either.

    It all looks as it looked in my boyhood [...] My eyes have not changed, the St. Paul's boy is still there. (3.7.5)

    Lyman feels seriously nostalgic while he's back at his grandparents' Zodiac Cottage. But that's just the half of it: being there also makes him feel more connected to the little boy he was back then, the little boy who admired his grams and gramps more than anything in the world.

    "I'm not writing a book of Western history [...] I'm writing about something else. A marriage, I guess." (4.1.53)

    The more Lyman writes his book, the more he understands his own motivations. What he doesn't yet realize is that his own broken marriage drastically affects the way he understands his grandparents' lives—though that realization will come soon enough.

    The fact is, I don't know. He is the silent character in this cast, he [...] left no novels, stories or reminiscences to speak for him. (4.2.210)

    The fact that Susan Ward wrote so many letters and stories makes it a lot easier for Lyman to write his book. But what about good ol' granddad? Given that Oliver was a steadfastly silent man in life, it only makes sense that he's equally silent in death.

    She did not have to come at her grandparents, as I do, through a time machine. Her own life and that of the grandfather [...] showed her similar figures in an identical landscape. (4.7.10)

    It seems like time moved a lot more slowly back in the good old days. Before Susan left to go west, her family lived in the same house, in the same town, for generations. As a result, she was extremely connected with the lives of her ancestors. For Lyman, however, this is a much more difficult prospect—the world has changed a lot in the hundred-some years since his grandparents first left their homes.

    It doesn't much matter what year they were written in; those years were cyclic, not chronological. (7.4.1)

    See what we mean about time being different back then? These pioneers didn't have calendar apps to manage their hectic schedules or Facebook to store pictures for posterity. All they had were their memories.

    The Zodiac is very real to me. To her it is not even a memory, it is only some decaying buildings and a boarded-up entrance. (7.7.21)

    Although Shelly's family history is tied to the Zodiac Mines, she has a much different relationship to them than Lyman does. For Lyman, they gave him access to a privileged lifestyle that he still enjoys today; for Shelly, however, they're just another meaningless piece of historical trivia.

    Why then am I spending all this effort trying to understand my grandparents' lives? What am I talking and organizing all this for? (7.7.46)

    That's the million-dollar question. So, is Lyman trying to make a point about the reality of life in the early West? Is he trying to make sense of his own failed marriage? Or, is he simply trying to honor his grandparents' memory in the best way he knows? Honestly, we'll go with all of the above.

    How would I explain, if I were susceptible to Shelly's truth parties, or even if I were writing a book about myself instead of about my grandmother, my relations with Ellen Ward. (7.7.50)

    With this, Lyman finally comes clean: he's been studying his grandparents' relationship in the hopes of figuring out what went wrong in his own marriage. Of course, the later revelation that this seemingly perfect marriage was actually quite imperfect shatters these romantic notions in an instant. It's almost as if relationships have always been difficult. Crazy, we know.

    "Sometimes it chills my heart to think about the future almost as much as it warms it to think about the past." (8.3.51)

    This quote comes from Susan, but it might as well be coming out of Lyman's mouth. To be honest, both of them seem to have the same problem: they look back at the past in order to avoid the future. Like grandma, like grandson, right?

  • Technology and Modernization

    As a modern and a one-legged man, I can tell you that the conditions are similar. (1.1.11)

    That's a bold statement, Lyman. While it would be easy to dismiss this as some classic old-dude crankiness, Lyman has plenty of valid complaints about life in the modern world.

    Rodman knows nothing whatever about Grandfather, nothing about his inventiveness or his genius for having big ideas twenty years ahead of their time. (1.1.34)

    Lyman's son Rodman is naively convinced that he lives in the most progressive era in human history. What he doesn't realize is that his great-grandfather was a visionary himself back in the day: he was basically the Steve Jobs of mine engineering. Rodman should be thanking guys like him for building the world that he enjoys today.

    It is not the Nevada City I knew as a boy. Towns are like people. Old ones often have character, the new ones are interchangeable. (1.7.3)

    Lyman has more one-liners about modernization than he has pairs of pants—and everyone knows how much the dude loves a good pair of bell-bottoms. Jokes aside, it's hard to argue with his point; after all, we live in a time when the biggest attraction in most U.S. cities is a Walmart Supercenter.

    I felt like asking her, if contemporary sexual attitudes are so much healthier than Grandmother's, how Grandmother managed to get through a marriage that lasted more than sixty years. (4.6.5)

    There's nothing that Lyman hates more than the hippiefied counterculture that dominates the 1970s. You know the deal: "free love," "give peace a chance," and all that jazz. To him, it's just naive silliness: childishness disguised as intelligence. Of course, Lyman's perspective gets changed once he realizes that his grandparents' marriage wasn't so perfect, after all.

    Like many another Western pioneer, he had heard the clock of history strike, and counted the strokes wrong. (7.3.2)

    Oliver Ward was a real innovator. To put it into context, this would be like some dude trying to invent the Internet in 1920, or some lady trying to invent automobile travel back in 1776. In other words, Oliver was way ahead of the curve.

    1970 knows nothing about isolation and nothing about silence. In our quietest and loneliest hour the automatic ice-maker in the refrigerator will cluck and drop an ice cube. (7.6.8)

    And we're back again with your regularly scheduled Lyman rant. Did you miss him? Jokes aside, he's got a good point with this one because when's the last time you did nothing at all? When's the last time you went a whole day without tapping away at your iPhone? That's what we thought. In contrast, Susan Ward and company had nothing to distract them from their often traumatic lives.

    We have been conditioned to think of chickens as neatly sorted cellophane packages of breasts, wings, legs, thighs, and necks, without guts or mess, without death. (7.7.104)

    Here's some more real talk from Lyman. Although it might be tempting to read Susan's story and think of her as naive, the truth is that modern folks like us are just as naive in our own ways. Susan had to confront the harsh realities of life on a daily basis; we stay safe and sound in our air-conditioned rooms ordering pizza for delivery on our cellphones.

    We have only switched prohibitions and hypocrisies with them. We blink pain and death, they blinked nudity and human sex, or rather, talk about sex. (7.7.105)

    See what we mean? Shelly gives Lyman a lot of grief for avoiding the topic of sex, but he's simply trying to adhere to the social customs of his grandparents' day. The uncomfortable truth is that there are plenty of things that modern people avoid just as much—if not more—as Susan Ward avoided discussions about sexuality.

    "Why not try a new way? Or look at your grandfather. Is this manifesto so different from the come-on he wrote for the Idaho Mining and Irrigation Company?" (8.6.61)

    That's a good point, Shelly. Unlike Rodman, she realizes that Oliver and Susan Ward were true trailblazers in their day and looks to them as an example for how to make the world better. Of course, Oliver and Susan would never wear tie-dye or listen to the Grateful Dead, but we'll let that slide.

    If revolutionaries would learn that they can't remodel society by day after tomorrow—haven't the wisdom to and shouldn't be permitted to—I'd have more respect for them." (8.6.70)

    Finally, Lyman lays out his beef with the hippie generation. It's not that he opposes their desire to build a better world. It's not that he opposes their idealism. It's not even that he hates all of their politics—in fact, he agrees with certain aspects. His beef comes from their naive confidence that they can transform the world overnight. After all, life isn't a sprint—it's a marathon.

  • Society and Class

    A Quaker lady of high principles, the wife of a not-very-successful engineer, you lived in exile [...] and stayed a cultural snob through it all. (1.1.38)

    Susan is one classy lady. To be honest, however, this is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it allows her to move through society with ease and earn oodles of respect from anyone she meets. On the other, it gives her high standards that are often impossible to meet.

    I think her love for my grandfather, however real, was always somewhat unwilling. She must unconsciously have agreed with his judgement that she was higher and finer than he. (1.1.44)

    Although she digs him, Susan has reservations about Oliver from the get-go. These concerns center around the fact that Oliver is a little low class compared to her: he lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that you need to navigate the world of the rich and famous. Regardless, the heart wants what it wants, so Susan shoves these concerns to the side in the name of love.

    A relatively poor girl making her own way—what Rodman would call "upward mobile"—she put a higher value on gentility than most who were bred in it. (1.4.12)

    So, this is why Susan is so concerned with acting fancy. Because she grew up poorer than most of her peers, she's pretty much obsessed with trying to fit into the cutthroat world of high society. For the trust-fund kids she parties with, however, this lifestyle is something in which they were born and bred to take part.

    The Wards had not chosen to live at the Hacienda, where things were rather more civilized and where people would have had a better chance at their company. (2.1.131)

    Despite her preference for luxurious living, Susan never really bonds with the rich businesspeople who own mines in the West. It makes sense when you think about it: these hard-nosed businessmen are nothing like the literary intellectuals she rolled with back in New York. Class isn't always about money—sometimes it's just about, well, class.

    It was clear to him that, however she tried to reassure him, Susan carried his failure home in her baggage. She returned East poorer than she had come West. (3.6.5)

    It seems like all of Susan's fears have suddenly come true. She doesn't actually seem all that concerned about living in poverty, though—she seems much more concerned about how her friends will judge her when she shows up in shabby clothes. But, how good could these friends really be if they would throw her shade over that?

    She saw that he lacked some quality of elegance and ease [...] that these others had. It seemed to her that he sat like a boy among men. (4.5.39)

    That's harsh. As time goes on, Susan's concerns over Oliver's lack of class grow even bigger, making her forget all of the reasons why she fell in love with him in the first place. It's actually pretty sad. Still, Susan has made it abundantly clear what's important to her.

    Somewhere back in her mind lurked the figure of Thomas Hudson, in shining mail. His example dictated my training as it had dictated my father's. (5.1.4)

    Whenever Susan complains about Oliver, what she's really doing is comparing him in her mind to Thomas Hudson. But, would she really be happy with a dude like Thomas? We're skeptical. Either way, he provides an example that's impossible for Oliver to live up to.

    Susan understood that her husband's name was to be mentioned and passed by, not dwelt upon; he was to be walked around like something repulsive on a sidewalk. (6.1.30)

    While Thomas is Susan's ideal masculine role model, Augusta is her ideal feminine role model: she's the most ladylike lady who has ever ladied. Because she respects her friends so much, it crushes Susan that Augusta and Thomas don't seem to like Oliver very much. (We, however, can't help but wonder if Susan's concerns are all in her head.)

    "When I was first at New Almaden the sight of a Chinese made me positively shudder, and yet I think we all love this smiling little ivory man." (7.3.82)

    First, we have to call out Susan for being racist. But, the important part here is that she's able to get over these small-minded prejudices by becoming a friend to a Chinese immigrant. If only she could be so open-minded about issues of class.

    "Right now he was told to stay in and work at what he's weak in, and he's out irrigating. At this rate he'll never get into a good Eastern school." (7.4.67)

    In the end, Susan never stops being that classy lady we've always known her to be. She still values literature over hard labor. She still values education over on-the-job training. And she still worries that her husband isn't good enough for her. Even if we disagree with certain aspects of these beliefs, it's a bit naive to think that she'll change them overnight.

  • Love

    What is more eyebrow-raising is the suggestion of lesbianism in this friendship, a suggestion that in some early letters is uncomfortably explicit. (1.2.12)

    Susan's first love is her best friend, Augusta. Though there's a lot of ambiguity over the exact nature of this relationship, Susan makes it perfectly clear that there's no one she loves more—even her husband, Oliver. Hanky-panky or not, the bond between Susan and Augusta is one that can't be broken.

    I don't think there was that much of an attachment, not on her part. He kept writing, and she didn't have the heart to shut him off. (1.4.9)

    To be brutally honest, Susan just isn't all that into Oliver at first. He's sort of cute, sure, and he seems awfully nice, but he's just not the sort of intellectual that Susan is usually attracted to. Oliver is going to be fighting an uphill battle if he's going to make it to Susan's heart.

    As for Susan Burling [...] that strong grip was [...] the very hand of the protective male. When she came up out of her dizzying tête-à-tête with the waterfall she was in love. (1.5.5)

    Eventually, Oliver wins Susan over through the sheer force of his manliness. He's like the Chuck Norris of the 1800s, right? Jokes aside, this scene indicates that Susan falls in love with Oliver because he can protect her: after all, it's the act of holding her as she hangs over the edge of a waterfall that finally, well, pushes her over the edge. Oh, man—we crack ourselves up.

    She probably thought him unbearably picturesque. She could have drawn the two of them just as they stood there, pretty bride and manly husband. (2.2.12)

    Aww, now isn't that just adorable. In a way, Susan romanticizes Oliver as the manliest man in the world, which helps her come to terms with her own burgeoning womanhood. And, they're actually a really happy couple at first: they balance each other out perfectly. It seems like nothing can come between these two lovebirds.

    But there was even more in his brief, laughing look, and she acknowledged that too. His adoration made her feel excited and flirtatious. (4.9.57)

    Uh-oh—looks like there's trouble in paradise. The attraction between Frank and Susan is apparent from the first moment, even though Susan is more reluctant to admit to it than her hunky boy toy. Interestingly, however, Susan is attracted to Frank for the same reasons that she's attracted to Oliver.

    What bothers me most is to watch the slow corrosion of the affection and loyalty that have held Oliver and Susan Ward together. (7.6.5)

    It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason why Oliver and Susan's relationship crumbles. Maybe it's due to Susan's unresolved feelings toward Frank. Maybe it's due to the family's flagging financial status. Maybe it's just a consequence of growing older. Regardless, the tight bond that once held Oliver and Susan together is loosening.

    I just can't feel about her as I once did. She broke something [...] I remember the terms of the bond: in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, til death do us part. (7.7.61)

    It turns out that Lyman has his own romantic issues to deal with. Although it's clear that he still has feelings for his ex-wife, Ellen, he's unable to deal with them in a healthy way because he's too bitter about her betrayal. If only there were another married couple with similar experiences that Lyman could learn from...

    For her heart had leaped at the name, the gladness had come before the fear, and before the furtive, alert sense of how dangerous it was to show what she really felt. (8.1.101)

    No matter how hard she tries to avoid them, Susan's feelings toward Frank keep bubbling up. Worse still, she's beginning to think that Oliver knows what's going on. But that only raises more questions for Susan: if Oliver knows about her feelings, then why does he still allow Frank to work for him? It's a good question, and one that we can't really answer.

    She was a decent married woman forty-two years old [...] But also romantic, also unhappy, also caught suddenly by the foot in intimate darkness. (8.5.115)

    After years of fighting it, Susan finally gives in to her love for Frank. It's important to note here that Frank bags Susan the same way that Oliver does: by holding on to her ankle. It's also important to note that Lyman is entirely making up this scene—it's probably more of a reflection of his own marriage than his grandparents'.

    But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. (9.1.237)

    Lyman doesn't remember his grandparents having a loving relationship, but even he must admit that there was something holding them together until the end. Despite all of the betrayals, despite all of the lies, and despite all of the arguments, they still loved each other.

  • Women and Femininity

    John Greenleaf Whittier said she was the only girl he knew who could conduct a serious discussion of the latest North American Review while scrubbing her mother's floor. (1.1.45)

    Susan is not the kind of person who can be defined by a stereotype. On the one hand, she's a proud intellectual, someone who values the power of the mind above all else. On the other, she's more than willing to get her hands dirty in order to get things done. This multifaceted personality will prove to be an asset once she moves out to the wild American West.

    There is a certain boldness about her; she strikes me as refusing to be put in any subordinate position. (1.3.48)

    Do you think this passage is describing Susan? If you answered yes to that question, you'd be dead wrong—it's actually a quote from Lyman about Shelly. Isn't it interesting that the same qualities he prizes in his grandmother he dislikes in his assistant?

    She had a tough and unswerving dedication to her art. She might even have accepted spinsterhood as the price of her career. (1.4.10)

    Susan is a career woman at heart. This is a really forward-thinking mindset, especially when you realize that Susan was born in the 1800s. Regardless, it's clear to Susan from an early age that she'll never be happy unless she can dedicate her life to her art.

    "You'd rather us live away from you, in some furnished room, than spend my perfectly good money for a house where we could be a family?" (2.7.165)

    Susan and Oliver fight constantly over whether to use her money for the family. To Susan, this is a no-brainer: they've run out of other options at this point. To Oliver, however, this is a grave affront to his masculine ability to provide for his family. Talk about tension.

    The admiration of two dozen magnetized eyeballs exhilarated her. She supposed it would be pleasant for men deprived of the company of ladies to see one. (4.2.93)

    As Susan gets older, she becomes a lot more comfortable with her sexuality. It's not that she becomes a wild child or anything—she just realizes that she is prized by men simply because she's a beautiful woman. While this flies in the face of her feminist beliefs, Susan can't help but be excited by the realization.

    She looked like a dog that [...] barked at a stone dog on a lawn, and been barked back at. In spite of that bass-baritone and that air of amused assurance, she is definitely female. (4.6.9)

    Unlike his much-beloved grandma, Lyman doesn't have a feminist bone in his body. It often seems like he believes that women are naturally submissive, even though he loves his grandmother because she refused to be submissive to her husband. That doesn't make much sense to us. This contradiction makes it clear that Lyman's view of women is shaped by his own traumatic relationships with them.

    There was an ambitious woman under the Quaker modesty [...] The light foot was for more than dancing [...] the womanliness for more than mute submission to husband and hearth. (5.1.24)

    See what we mean? If Lyman were to say the exact same thing about Shelly, he'd be using it as evidence of why she's an awful human being with the dumbest beliefs in the world (we're paraphrasing, of course). So, what makes Susan so different? Once again, we'd point to Lyman's tumultuous marriage as the reason behind his often twisted opinions about women.

    My grandfather, operating on his belief that ladies were to be protected, conspired [...] to fill all the seats [...] with the more desirable passengers. (5.1.30)

    Though he's married to a die-hard feminist, Oliver isn't above engaging in some good, old-fashioned sexism. While this move might be a little more justified back in the days of the Wild West, we doubt that anything that insane would have happened if Susan had been allowed to live as freely as a man.

    "It irritates my republican and suffragist sentiments to see such feminine perfection tied like a servant to that Prussian self-satisfaction." (5.4.18)

    Mexico is a whole different game when it comes to gender politics. While Susan has to deal with plenty of sexism while in America, the rigid gender roles of Mexican society are something completely unfamiliar (and frightening) to her. Even though she loves the culture, she hates how it treats women.

    Less and less a companion, more and more a grind, she was bolted to her desk by her desperate sense that the family depended entirely on her. (7.6.6)

    At a certain point, Susan basically becomes the breadwinner of the family. You might think that this would be liberating for a protofeminist like her, but the complete opposite is actually true—she feels more chained down than ever now that it's up to her to pay the bills.

  • Ambition

    Within a week he had left for California [...] Clearly he went with the notion of "proving himself"—that was Grandfather's character. (1.2.79)

    Oliver is incredibly eager to make a name for himself as an engineer. Remember: he never actually graduated from college (though he went to Yale for two years), instead opting to follow his dreams DIY-style. Talk about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

    Susan Ward came West [...] not to build anything but to enjoy a temporary experience and make it yield whatever instruction it contained. (2.1.1)

    Susan, on the other hand, is just along for the ride. Although she does actually make a career out of her life in the West (by selling drawings and stories of her experiences), she never exactly planned to build a whole new life for herself out there.

    He succeeded in everything he did [...] She was proud of him, and wanted his value acknowledged by his employers. (2.5.11)

    This Oliver Ward dude is the real deal. He's a hard worker. He's a likable boss. And that's not even to mention the fact that he's one of the most accomplished mine engineers this side of the Mississippi. The more time she spends watching him work, the more Susan admires her husband's unquenchable work ethic.

    "I want you to [...] start selling cement to everybody in this country, and then I want us to buy this laguna [...] and build a house that looks right straight out at Japan." (3.2.67)

    It isn't long before Susan catches the bug and becomes ambitious herself. After seeing how hard and how well Oliver works, she becomes convinced that he's a hair away from a massive, multi-million-dollar success that will change their lives forever. But, life is rarely that simple. As Susan will come to learn, being ambitious is only half of the battle.

    Pioneer or not, resource-raider or not, afflicted or not with the frontier faith that exploitation is development and development is good, he was simply an honest man. (3.6.4)

    It would be really easy to lump in Oliver with the money-grubbing businessmen we see him dealing with throughout Angle of Repose, but we think that would be giving the guy short shrift. True, in hindsight, he does engage in many practices that we now know are detrimental. But, Oliver was never doing it to line his own pockets—he did it because he thought that it would better mankind.

    "I'm just a big green boy too honest for his own good. I'm not smart enough to play these poker games with grown men." (5.5.42)

    Although Oliver has no shortage of ambition, he's anything but a businessman. The guy has no interest in playing games, manipulating others, or kissing rich dudes' butts so that they'll toss him a few Benjamins. All Oliver cares about are results.

    She saw in his face that he had contracted the incurable Western disease. He had set his cross-hairs on the snowpeak of a vision, and there he would go. (6.2.49)

    Of course, there comes a point when ambition becomes a bad thing. At this point, Oliver has invested in countless businesses, but each one has ended up failing miserably. Instead of taking a step back and examining why these things have happened, however, he just keeps his head down and keeps working.

    Grandfather was trying to do [...] what only the immense power of the federal government ultimately proved able to do. (7.3.2)

    Basically, Oliver has set his sights high. The dude is actually kind of a genius: every single one of his business ventures is about 20 years ahead of its time. While we have to give him props for his forward-thinking vision, Oliver should have learned not to bite off more than he can chew.

    She had watched her hopes recede, had had her pride humiliated. Her ambitions for her children seemed certain to be frustrated. (7.7.67)

    Unlike her husband, Susan is very much affected by the family's business failures. She once shared Oliver's ambitious mindset, wholeheartedly believing that his business dealings would give them the lives that they deserved. Unfortunately, this wide-eyed optimism could only endure so many disappointments.

    "Frank has lost, I am afraid, some of his freshness and exuberance, and has grown almost somber. Like Oliver, he drives himself into the work with a relentlessness that I fear will break him." (8.3.13)

    Even Frank—whom Susan turns to when she's disappointed with Oliver—is simply obsessed with working hard. If nothing else, this shows that this mindset is deeply tied to the West itself—in fact, it'd probably be impossible to survive out there without an overwhelmingly strong work ethic. Still, only time will tell if Frank falls into the same pitfalls as his role model.

  • Isolation

    For it struck me after she finally went away [...] that I really would like to talk to somebody about my grandparents, their past. (1.3.67)

    Lyman may act like he wants to be left alone, but even he can't handle long-term isolation. We don't think there's a person out there who can. Regardless, Lyman is craving human contact so much that he even wants to hang out with Shelly—which is saying a lot for him.

    So in one stroke her picnic in the West has turned into exile. The three thousand miles [...] revealed themselves as a continent. (2.2.18)

    At first, Susan doesn't feel all that isolated when she moves west. That changes when Augusta's first child passes away. Susan wants so badly to be there for her best friend in her time of need, but she knows it would be impossible for her to afford the trip.

    Oliver was gone from before seven until after six, six days a week. She lived for the evening and for Sundays. (2.2.29)

    It certainly doesn't help things that Oliver works constantly, leaving Susan home alone all day with nothing to do but twiddle her thumbs. Man—what she wouldn't give for a Game Boy and a Tetris cartridge right now.

    "When you're here I love it. Look at it, who wouldn't? It's wonderful for Ollie. But when you're gone I go crazy with boredom and loneliness." (3.2.34)

    Isolation has a way of making even the most beautiful locales feel claustrophobic. Just look at this one: even though Susan lives in a beautiful home right on the beach in sunny Santa Cruz, California, she feels more like she's a guest star on Orange Is the New Black.

    I know what she thought of Father. He was such a gloomy man [...] just sat and stared at nothing for hours at a time [...] Lived in some world off by himself. (4.1.16)

    While physical isolation is a big part of Angle of Repose, we see countless examples of psychological isolation as well—especially where Lyman's dad is concerned. Although we don't fully understand the traumatic events that caused this isolation until the end of the novel, we see its consequences throughout the book just the same.

    "It is during this hour of freedom, such as it is, that I realize how close to imprisonment is the life of a Mexican woman." (5.4.20)

    Although Susan falls in love with Mexico, she simply can't abide by the country's sexist views. Sexism in America is bad enough, but women in Mexico are expected at this time to remain completely separate from men, leaving them isolated, bored, and alone.

    "But I love you, my darling, do you see? He's kept you from us for five years, he's taken you out of the world you belong in." (6.1.74)

    Augusta isn't too happy that Susan lives halfway across the country, either. The two girls spent their entire childhoods planning their lives together as if they were spouses, but those hopes and dreams were shut down in an instant. It's a real bummer for both ladies.

    She knew that sooner or later [...] she would be packing up her children and [...] going West again—not, as at first, on an adventurous picnic [...] but into exile. (6.2.98)

    At first, Susan believed that her family would spend a few years out west before returning home to the East Coast. Things don't quite turn out as planned, though. Instead, Susan is forced to come to terms with the fact that she might never see certain members of her family again.

    Like a widow, she was, grim and diligent to support her brood. She does not sound unhappy, but in two separate letters she refers to herself as one "who wants above all to be alone." (8.1.9)

    After her marriage begins to crumble, Susan starts believing that she deserves to be alone. It's hard to blame her for feeling this way: she's had an extremely stressful life struggling to raise a family in the West and could honestly use a break. But, Susan is only able to stay in this self-imposed exile for so long before returning home to the people she loves.

    Am I feeling my isolation threatened? Do I hear Rodman and Ellen and that cat's-paw of a doctor conspiring to move in and capture me? (8.2.4)

    When push comes to shove, no one in Angle of Repose is more isolated than Lyman himself. In fact, the real reason why he's so afraid of Ellen is that she presents a threat to this self-imposed exile. If the end of the book is any indication, however, Lyman might be reconsidering this mindset.

  • Visions of the West

    His character and his role were already Western, he had only that way of asserting himself against the literary gentility with which her house was associated in his mind. (1.5.40)

    A big reason why Susan falls in love with Oliver is that he's so quintessentially Western. He's like a hunky cowboy. Given that Susan spends most of her time hanging out with literary bigwigs and diehard intellectuals, meeting a rough-and-tumble dude like Oliver is like a breath of fresh air. It'd be like breaking up with a fashion designer to start dating a professional athlete.

    She saw exotic red-barked trees among the woods, and smelled the herb-cupboard smells of sage and bay. Another world. (2.1.65)

    Although she was scared at first, Susan actually falls in love with the West immediately. It certainly helps that it's super pretty out there, completely unlike the Northeast where she was born and raised. Like she says: it's another world.

    "This is a place to be very happy in [...] but there is a thought [...] which is the undertone of our life here—that this is not our real home." (2.2.32)

    Although she digs it out there, Susan is hesitant to call the West her home: she assumes that she and the fam will be heading back east in a few years' time. We're not trying to call her out or anything, but we're pretty sure that Oliver would disagree with that statement.

    There are several dubious assumptions [...] that it was the home of intractable self-reliance [...] whereas in fact large parts of it were owned [...] by iron-fisted bosses. (2.5.50)

    Looks like the Wild West wasn't so wild after all. This shouldn't be all that surprising; it's not like railroads pay for themselves. Still, it complicates our common stereotypes of the West, forcing us to reckon with the fact that this new country was built in large part through exploitative labor tactics.

    Standing outside of this casual revelation of how deep and violent were the divisions in the camp, Susan felt as a woman [...] might feel if she [...] saw men fighting in the street. (2.7.103)

    At first, Susan romanticizes the West. Although she doesn't think it's perfect or anything, she can't help but love how real things are out there. But then, she learns the truth. She learns about the harsh working conditions in the mines. She learns about the abusive labor practices employed by mine owners. She even learns about the awful violence that makes this economic revolution possible. It's a real eye-opener.

    Oliver lashed it harshly with the whip [...] leaped to the ground and kept lashing [...] Susan sat white and trembling [...] hating the heartless mountains, the brutal West. (4.2.204)

    Yikes—this is a side of Oliver that we've never seen before. But, it also seems like just another consequence of living out west: in order to survive in a brutal world, Oliver must become brutal, too. Yes, we know that this isn't exactly the sweetest thing to say, but it's an inescapable part of the life he's chosen.

    Leadville roared toward civilization like a runaway train. Amid talk of an opera house, three mine managers [...] were planning houses on Ditch Walk. (4.4.61)

    The times they are a-changing, huh? In only a few years, this tiny mining town has transformed itself into a mecca for wealthy Westerners. This just goes to show the massive economic impact that the then-burgeoning mining industry had on the western United States.

    The West was not a new country being created, but an old one being reproduced; in that sense our pioneer women were always more realistic than our pioneer men. (4.7.15)

    Interesting point, Lyman. In many ways, Susan is attempting to recreate the East Coast of her youth out west, shaping this wild country into something more familiar. That's a vastly different mindset from that of Oliver, who looks at the West and sees a blank canvas just waiting for him to jot down his masterpiece on it.

    Mexico was indeed her Paris and her Rome [...] her only glimpse of the ancient and exotic civilizations that in her innocent nineteenth-century local-colorish way she craved to know. (5.1.26)

    While most of the West is desolate and isolated, Mexico is a bustling hub of activity. What's more, it's an old country—quite the contrast from the West, where it's hard to find a building that's older than five years. While there are plenty of downsides to this traditionalism, Susan finds herself in awe of this mighty civilization.

    Like everything here, it is large and raw. It is for the future, it sacrifices the present for what is to come. (8.3.3)

    This is the West in a nutshell. For early pioneers, it wasn't about creating a better life for themselves—it was about creating a better life for those who came after. After all, there's little chance that their hard work would come to fruition in their lifetimes.