The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington Summary

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'The Turmoil' is the first novel from Booth Tarkington's 'Growth' trilogy, which is a fictional commentary on capitalism during the Second Industrial Revolution. This lesson provides a summary of 'The Turmoil.'

The Growth Trilogy

How is your life different from your grandparents when they were your age? How has America changed since that time?

While Booth Tarkington's 'Growth Trilogy' appears on the surface to be about family, it is actually more about the economic changes that were occurring in America during the Second Industrial Revolution and how these changes impacted Midwesterners.

The Turmoil is the first book in this series that is best known for its Pulitzer Prize winning second novel, The Magnificent Ambersons, which was later adapted into a film by Orson Welles.

History tends to repeat itself and economic history is no different. Although the Great Depression was still about 15 years away, Booth Tarkington, a former Republican member of the Indiana House of Representatives, could foresee that the massive industrial expansion that was occurring in the early 1900s would eventually cause an economic downturn with devastating effects, which is prophesied in The Turmoil. Let's learn more about this novel.

Sheridan Trust

The narrator begins by describing the massive changes that are taking place. The citizens of the typical Midwestern city can clearly see these changes but aren't sure how to proceed. The narrator says, ''With Bigness came the new machinery and the rush, the streets began to roar and rattle, the houses to tremble, the pavements were work under the tread of hurrying multitudes.''

Mr. Sheridan, the patriarch of the Sheridan family, is determined to take advantage of the capitalistic opportunities that are available to him and his family. He builds the Sheridan Trust Company and becomes extremely successful in business. The family business is everything you might expect from an unregulated business that is only concerned with profit as it contributes to pollution, overcrowding, and dangerous work conditions.

Mr. Sheridan is less successful as the father of Jim, Roscoe, Bibbs, and Edith. He has high hopes for his sons, Jim and Roscoe, but has much less faith in Bibbs, who seems weak, emotional, and strange to his father. In hopes of rehabilitating Bibbs, Mr. Sheridan forces him to engage in physical pursuits, such as working in the machine shop.

Misfortune for the Sheridan Family

A series of misfortune befalls the Sheridan family that changes the dynamics. When the eldest son, Jim, is killed by a collapsing roof in a construction accident caused by scrimping on safety regulations, Mr. Sheridan turns to Bibbs and says, ''Why wasn't it you?''

As the family falls apart from the devastating loss, Bibbs buries his older brother. All eyes turn to Roscoe to continue the family business. But when Roscoe discovers that his wife is having a relationship with Robert Lamhorn, Roscoe turns to alcohol for comfort and is unable to continue in his leadership role.

Mr. Sheridan suffers a debilitating hand injury while attempting to show Bibbs how to use an industrial machine at the machine shop. Bibbs' sister Edith runs away to Florida to marry Robert Lamhorn. The Sheridan's are forced to rely on Bibbs.

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