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Set in a mythical Indiana county based partly on Henry County, Indiana, the novel tells the life story of John Wickliff Shawnessy in a series of flashbacks occasioned by the events of a single day, July 4, 1892. It thus owes much to Joyce--as well as to such Midwestern writers as Anderson, Clemens, Dos Passos, Dreiser, Garland, Hemingway, Lardner, Lewis, Lincoln, Masters, and Tarkington. But Lockridge attempted an encyclopedic fiction that would be more accessible than Ulysses, as William York Tillyard noted early on, to the common reader. Its form is cinematic, indebted to Intolerance and Citizen Kane; its plot is based on Hawthorne's story, "The Great Stone Face"; and its themes reflect Lockridge's absorption in myth, environment, sexuality, and the need for reaffirmation of American idealism in the midst of cultural decline.