Writer’s Who Can’t Shake Their Roots

In the 2002 film Orange County, an English professor tells one of his students: “Every writer has a conflicted relationship with the place where they grew up.” I didn’t think much about that statement at the time, but the more I evolve as a writer and a thinker, the more I realize that it’s true. How authors feel about their places of origin is often reflected in they’re writing. Here are five writers that can’t seem to shake their roots.

James Joyce

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Irish modernist James Joyce rose to prominence writing about his native city of Dublin. It’s no secret that Joyce didn’t like the place, but almost everything he wrote was set there. From his early work in Dubliners to his final publication of Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce never strayed too far from the city that he called home for so many years. His strange attachment is explored most deeply in Ulysses, where he traces a character’s journey through the city over a single day. Reading it gives one an excellent impression of how Joyce truly saw his city.

Mark Twain

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Born in Missouri, Mark Twain left the South as a young man, and although he rarely returned, it is clear from his writing that the place where he grew up stayed with him forever. All his most popular works were set there, with the exception of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Like Joyce, Twain definitely had some mixed feelings toward his home-state, which are made clear in his staunchly abolitionist writing. 

William Faulkner

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Twain seldom returned to the South after leaving, but this southern novelist chose a different path. William Faulkner was born in Oxford, Mississippi and although he did some traveling as a young man, by age 28 he had returned to his hometown. In his many novels set in the Deep South, Faulkner made his conflicted emotions quite clear. While he certainly valued his roots and believed everyone’s past to be a key component of who they are, much of his writing reflected the gradual decline of the South due to its brutal history.  

J.D. Salinger

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In his novel The Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger made it clear how he felt about “the greatest city on earth”. These feelings were reflected through his protagonist, Holden Caulfield: an adolescent with mixed feelings about The Big Apple. Caulfield felt alone in the biggest city in America, unable to connect with any of the many people he met. A notorious recluse, it is quite likely that Salinger regarded his city in exactly this way.

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