Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker tells the story of a woman’s struggle to take care of her family in unfamiliar surroundings. Her story is sad, but honest. I feel like I am better for having read it.
Set in Detroit during World War II against a background of union picket lines and the threat of closing factories, it’s a novel that speaks out against the industrial revolution and voices the complaints of someone who never spoke very loudly.
Though readers meet protagonist Gertie Nevels as a strong heroine, they soon find out that a strong woman today and a strong woman in rural Appalachia in the 1940s have a different level of obstacles.
Gertie packs up her children and the life she loved to trudge alongside husband Clovis in his chase of the American Dream. Gertie only finds peace in her cramped housing project when whittling. She makes dolls and toys for children whenever her hands have nothing else to busy themselves with. When people begin admiring her woodcraft, she starts earning money for her family with a little whittling business. That makes me hope that in difficult economic times, more people will find the drive and the time to make things.
Gertie’s life is filled with struggle, yet she is a character that I missed after I finished it the book. At 599 pages, I had enjoyed spending time with her.
Avon Books published The Dollmaker in 1954. It got good reviews, became a bestseller and was even first runner up to one of William Faulkner’s books for the National Book Award. The current economic climate could inspire another wave of interest in the book.