Stoner by John Williams

Stoner, a novel set in the 1920s, is a golden classic hidden beneath time. 

It begins with a slight allusion to the William Stoner’s (our main character) end, citing that he made little to no impression upon his students and colleagues at the University he had attended and worked for. Moreover, he seems to symbolize to these characters the harsh realities that await them (death, of course).

Afterwards, the author (John Williams) slowly appears to construct his life from the start: Stoner was born and raised on a farm with parents that treat him fine. Quite often, he’d help with chores and learn the lifestyle of an average farmer. Therefore, when Stoner was old enough, he was sent to the University of Columbia where he intended to study agriculture. However, these plans were cut short when he fell in love with literature. In turn, his passions for written works (both old and modern alike) seem to act with (or as) the message, for Stoner was willing to cut off his past ties with farm life –  and thus his parents – to study a field he held fondness for. 

In turn, similar elements within the text are brought together to form this wondrous book. For one, the characters and their interactions are so alive, which gives them such a robust roundedness. Furthermore, the plot is pushed onward with descriptions and actions that reek of loss. To illustrate, he loses his parents when he chooses a path towards literature; he loses his sense of importance when he decides not to fight in either war (WWI and WWII); he loses his marriage when he realizes the hard resentment his wife has toward him. Even at its conclusion, Stoner leaves readers empty and restless, perhaps frustrated or confused that he never took the chance to fight against his evident torment. 

Nonetheless, despite these dark matters, Stoner had happier moments to take pride in. For instance, he was able to enjoy a quiet but significant bond with his daughter when she was first born, and also gained some recognition from his students when he decided to integrate new techniques into his classes (much to his colleagues displeasure). 

In this manner, Williams communicates to readers that cold realities have bits of warmth and comfort too. 

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