There are many components that go into creating a bestseller. The subject matter, whether it is love,work, or family are important. The time that the book is published is important as well depending on the event
s that are going on, and finally the author's name and reputation. Family and work seem to be a constant anectdote in bestsellers. As long as these two themes exist people will continue to write and read about them. Irwing Shaw had demonstrated the ide
a of family, work, love and social problems in the United States in his Bestselling book Rich Man, Poor Man. Irwin Shaw saw the significance of not only writing about work and the American family but also war. He was most commonly known for writing abou
t his experiences which were a culmination of wartime stories like The Young Lions which he wrote in the 1940? sHe also liked taking events that occurred in his life and incorporating them into his characters. He often used this style in Rich Man Poor Ma
Rich Man Poor Man is a family chronicle that tells the story of three children. Axel Jordache, the father is a baker in a small town by the name of Port Phillip on the Hudson River. The family is a representation of any family in America. There is a m
other, father, two sons and a daughter. The mother plays the role of the typical wife. She takes care of the home and helps out her husband in the shop. The husband is the bread winner who works long hard hours to make ends meet. One of the sons Thoma
s is a ne'er do-well who uses his physical strengths to become a prize fighter. The other son, Rudolph is the mother's bright hope who uses his intelligence to become a successful businessman. Then finally there is the daughter Gretchen who achieves a t
heatrical career after being seduced by the local mill-owner.
The novel starts out in the mid 1940's and ends in the 1970's. Irwin Shaw does a great job in displaying the transition from one era to another. He uses a lot of historical background to make the novel more relevant to the readers. The novel is essenti
ally a product of its times. The plot parallels the news. The novel deals with World War II, all the presidents from the 1940's to 1970's, and the McCarthy era. The book hit the bestseller's list in 1971, a decade after the decade of protests, 1960's.
At the time that the book became a bestseller the country was looking for direction. Whenever there is confusion in the country, people tend to revert and look in the past for answers. They may or may have offered ways for the country to deal with th
e many different changes that occurred during the 1970's but it showed them ways in which the country had developed over the years. Being a soldier himself, Shaw showed both the negative and the positive effects of war on the family and the country as a
nation in the book. Here again Shaw is not being preachy but showing all sides of a particular event. The novel shows the effect of these events on Americans through the Jordache family. These events are also a part of every American family and will n
ever be forgotten no matter how old the book becomes.
Another reason for the book's popularity is the fact that it dealt with family issues that most people, not just Americans, could understand. Everyone has a family or at least comes from one. There are problems between parents and children and sibling
rivalry. Shaw has a preoccupation with the family and it is evident throughout all of his novels. In Lucy Crown he wanted to analyze in an allegorical way, how one family would weather the years with two such different offspring. He also did the same t
hing with Rich Man Poor Man.
Irwin Shaw did well in portraying the two sides of Rudolph and Thomas. One isn't virtuous while the other is evil. Each brother in fact tries to make the right moral decision at every turn. The choices are different only because the brothers' character
s and circumstances are different. The novel points out that morality is shaped not by society but by the influence of the family. Shaw tells all sides and sympathizes with each. In doing this, the book comes across not looking like it's preachy. Sh
aw introduces his characters, simply lets the readers know how they live, the he let's the reader run with the rest, allowing the reader independence to formulate his/her own opinions about the characters and their life styles.
The book is also successful because it is very easy to read and understand. The plot is very simple and looks familiar because it's the cliché story about how the American family must struggle to survive during turmoil. The characters were people who cou
ld easily be understoobd by the readers. Readers could also sympathize with them because they were either like them or they new someone like their kind. The characters were believable. Nor were their life experiences very different from most people's.
In the beginning of the book, the first character that is introduced is Rudolph. Rudolph is a fifteen year old boy who has dreams of making it one day and being able to have everything that he wants. Like most fifteen year olds he has dreams of havin
g a life much better than his own. Rudolph also can't wait to leave the house so that he does not have to hear his father's constant nagging. As a reader I saw a lot of myself in Rudolph which made the book more enjoyable. For instance, in my family,I
would be considered the "Rudolph" character because I know that education is the only way for me to make money and have what I want in life. My sister would be considered the "Thomas" of my family because she is not as serious about her education as I no
r does she listen to authority. This scenario occurs in a lot of families in which both kids raised by the same parents but they turn out very different.
The book is also very interesting. Though it is historical, it reads like a soap opera. The reader identifies with a character or characters and continues reading to find out what will become of that particular character. The reviews that I read spoke o
f Shaw's great development of the characters. One reviewer commented, "Shaw develops his characters in such a human, lifelike way that the reader feels he knows them. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, love, joy, pathos, and sympathy come alive and
are real." (D.F. Sharpe). I found this to be very true. As I read Gretchen's description and some of the events that she had endured I couldn't put the book down. Her character, like most women, had issues with sex because of the way she had been rais
ed and her mother's influence. Her mother never gave her a strict lecture about sex but she would make comments about how a woman's purity is the best thing she could possess. Her mother felt that "corruption lay in the touch of a man." Her father woul
d make comments about how she should not allow the soldiers that she worked with to lay their hands on her because he did not "have room to build a nursery." She had very ill feelings about sex and felt embarrassed by discussions about sex. Girls are of
ten made to feel as if they shouldn't partake in the discussion of sex because it is unladylike. This is an aspect about growing up that a lot of women can relate to. This made her character even more realistic and easier for me to relate to her. This
issue with women and sex is something that is prevalent no matter what time or decade we are in. Irwin Shaw did a great job with making the problems that the family encountered transferable throughout the times.
Another reason for the books success was Irwin Shaw's notoriety and success from his other novels. He was a well-know author when he published Rich Man Poor Man. He had fans and had established credibility so his book had a better chance of achieving a
positive reception from readers. In one of the reviews that I read, the reviewer wasn't pleased with the book at all but he commented on the fact that the book would sell because it was Irwin Shaw. He said, "This book is a genuine disappointment for S
haw readers?an uneven, sprawling, contrived narrative of three unsympathetic characters, however Shaw's name will create a demand." This is what I refer to as the "Stephen King disease." Although Irwin Shaw isn't at Stephen King's level of achievement,
he can pull off sales because of his name.
One reviewer, Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post, called Irwin Shaw's writing "Middlebrow fiction." This is by no means intended to be an insult. He saw Shaw as a professional writer with standards whose novels and stories were intended to enterta
in. He also called Shaw a "popular" writer but he could hold his head high in polite company and indeed was revered as a personal and professional example, by many writers with larger literary reputations than his own. Shaw's writings were so entertaini
ng that some of them, including Rich Man Poor Man, were made into television movies. Television had been responsible for revitalizing Shaw's literary career. Rich Man Poor Man had been a respectable bestseller when it was first published in 1970. It sta
yed on the New York Times Bestseller list for thirty-three weeks. The miniseries six years later made his name popular to the younger generations. Though Shaw achieved a great deal of success with Rich Man Poor Man, one critic said, "If Shaw had died
in the 1950's, his place as one of America's finest writers of the thirties and forties would have been far more secure. As a playwright he would have been mentioned in the same breath as Clifford Odets and William Sarotan. As a writer of short stories
he would have been ranked unquestionably with John Cheever, John O'Hara and J.D.Salinger. Along with James Jones and Norman Mailer."
When comparing Rich Man Poor Man to other bestsellers, Rich Man Poor Man had all the qualities of a bestseller. The characters were well developed, the story was easy to understand, the plot mimicked history and familiar events that are relative to our l
ives, and most importantly the book was interesting and enjoyable. It was reading that made the reader examine his/her life and society but at the same time it did not preach to him. In the words of W.G. Rogers of the New York Times Book Review, "He wh
isks us off from a standing start to a velocity well beyond familiar limits. His pace doesn't slacken for chapter after chapter. Incidents lead to incident and they are uncommonly appealing. You don't really catch your breath until?well until you ask y
ourself what it's all about?though it finally runs down on page 723 it could go on for a thousand more?.this is exciting reading. It is a book you can't put down?."