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April 27, 2018

Pulitzer Prize 1984: Ironweed

by N@ncy


Theme:  Redemption: The ghost of Francis’ infant son tells his father that he
must perform acts (of kindness) to exorcise his demons.

Motif:  Gothic details, in recurrent images of gloomy and haunted settings, supernatural events (ghosts in cemetery), full moon (moonlight), Halloween (goblins).

Setting and timeline:  the story takes place in Albany over two days and two nights, Halloween and All Saints’ Day of 1938.

Main characters:  Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are bums, back in their birth city. She was a singer on the radio, he a major league pitcher. Francis Phelan  is resilient.  Helen Archer has traveled with and lived with Francis for nine years. She is “shapeless, windblown weed blossom of no value to anything.” (pg 127). She is not meant for survival.

Title: Ironweed refers to the main character. Francis Phelan is a survivor and hard to break. The ironweed flower is a plant known for its toughness of the stem.



  1. The presence of death appears throughout this novel.
  2. In the first chapter Kennedy cleverly uses the scene of a cemetery.
  3. Francis is digging graves for small cash.
  4. He has returned to his home town for the first time since
  5. Francis abandoned his family after
  6. …the death of his infant son Gerald.
  7. “I never stop thinking’ about him’.
  8. Kennedy portrays the human condition as tragic, but it is precisely
  9. …in confronting this situation, that Francis experiences hope.



  1. Sometimes an image is all you need
  2. …to inspire you to read this book. (see above)
  3. This is one of the better novels on
  4. …the Modern Library List Best 100 Novels 20th C.
  5. #Classic



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