Study Guide

Angle of Repose Technology and Modernization

By Wallace Stegner

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.