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“Mary Coin” a Novel by Marisa Silver Essay

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019

“Mary Coin” is a novel by Marisa Silver that is based on the events surrounding the great depression. The book is based on an iconic picture of the great depression. The picture that is the subject of the story is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”. Lange’s picture features a woman who is seated with her children surrounding her. Her jaw is supported by her hand, and she has wretched skin.

The picture represents the plight of migrant workers during the great depression. Marisa Silver’s novel is chiefly based on this image. The author examined the lives behind the picture and made a story about it. By this time, “Migrant Mother” had long been forgotten together with its accompanying depression.

However, Marisa Silver was able to relieve it in her readers’ memories using her book. “Mary Coin” is a well-written book that relieves the events of a past phenomenal.

Silver’s novel uses the viewpoints of three main characters with parallel stories. These characters include Vera Dare, the woman who takes the famous photograph and is suffering from polio, Walker Dodge a professor, and the subject of the famous picture Mary Coin. Mary Coin is a poverty-stricken mother of seven and a descendant of the Cherokee ancestry.

The characters of Mary Coin and Vera Dare are based on the characters of the photographer, and her subject in “Migrant Mother”. The author renames her characters to avoid being too confined to factual details about her characters’ stories. However, the author is still able to investigate intimate and factual details concerning the lives of the main character.

The main aim of the author is to deal the issue of ‘who?’ in the story instead of dealing with the ‘what if?’ of the story. Silver is able to accomplish this task with ease. The book does not deviate from the stories of the main characters and its fictional stance is overshadowed by its factual stance.

The author tells the story of Mary Coin in a tactful manner. The story begins with Mary’s childhood days in Oklahoma, up to the time she moves to California. Her story is characterized by several tragedies including several failed unions and lost children. The author is able to portray Mary’s poverty not only from the outside but also from the inside.

The style of writing that is used by the author of this book is similar to that used in her other works. Her popular short story collections and her other novels all feature a similar style of writing. The author is often able to convey deep feelings to her readers without seeming fussy or self-conscious. Her focus on the wholeness of her characters is also quite remarkable.

The Story of Vera Dare tracks her life as an artist. Silver portrays this character as an artist who is in search of a perfect subject. Vera Dare’s life is dominated by the fact that she had polio as a child but as an adult, she is able to adapt to the Bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco. Her story culminates with her meeting Mary Coin. The two women’s worlds collide but while one of them is a subject, the other one acts as a lens.

The author’s recollection of this encounter is dominated by a humanized analysis of the two women and the parallels in their world. According to the author, the two women have similar concerns when it comes to their self-determination, survival, and children. This section acts as the book’s climax.

From this point onwards, the author is able to tell the story in a more relaxed manner. The readers are also glad to find out the circumstances under which Dorothea Lange might have met her famous subject. Although this meeting point is very important to the story, the author is careful not to overplay it and hence make the rest of the book irrelevant.

In the last chapters of the book, the author captures the words of a gallery visitor who looks at the picture and notes that Mary Coin’s face reveals everything. This statement prompts the readers to contemplate the differences between what is portrayed by a photograph, and the actual events surrounding its subject.

The book’s cover contains this famous photograph. Therefore, it is easy for readers to compare the Mary Coin in the book and the one in the cover. Nevertheless, the author refrains from delving into this debate and leaves it up to her audience for contemplation.

The most successful aspect of “Mary Coin” is that the book is able to tell the great depression’s story afresh. Silver is able to connect the dots between the events surrounding the great depression, the iconic “Migrant Mother”, and the present.

The book provides a fresh look at the depression period to both older and younger audiences. The younger audience is probably unable to fathom how human beings were able to survive this tragedy. “Mary Coin” is a great work of literature because it is able to stand in the same stature as several books that were written in the time of the great depression.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "“Mary Coin” a Novel by Marisa Silver." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mary-coin-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2019) '“Mary Coin” a Novel by Marisa Silver'. 12 August.

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