"All my writing is a letter to the world telling what happened to me last summer" (York 47), says Conroy, a modern southern writer who has spent most of his adult life in South Carolina.

Pat Conroy's writing is revolutionary in that he was one of the first writers to openly discuss child abuse. Conroy had an extremely traumatic childhood, one that inspired him to write about a subject that at that time was taboo. In The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, Conroy tells the story of a dysfunctional and abusive family similar to the one in which he grew up. Due in part to Conroy's radical step of writing about child abuse and its continual effect on victims, many safeguards have to set up to protect children from their parents.

In fairly similar ways in each of his books, Conroy addresses how his parents damaged and endangered him and his siblings. "There was something classic and quintessentially American about their marriage," he says about his parents, "They began as lovers and ended up as the most dangerous and unutterable of enemies. As lovers, they begat children; as enemies, they created damaged, endangered children" (Weeks 45). These types of abusive parents appear in most of his writing

The reoccurring dominent male figure in each of Conroy's books is a violent one who brutalizes his family. In Prince, that male figure is Henry Wingo. His children, Tom and Luke, are beaten on a continuous basis. Tom refers to his childhood as "a long march of terror" (Conroy, Prince 242). He tells of one incident in particular when Henry "removed his belt and began beating Luke...with a flashing, brutal movement of his great red-haired arms"(Conroy, Prince 100). In Santini, Bull Meecham is a fighter pilot who "obscures the line between military and family life." (Hall 43) He refers to his children as "Marine kids" (Conroy, Great 31) and he treats them as such. Bull uses very cruel discipline, such as the time that he pounced on them at 2 in the morning and dragged them out of bed, saying only "You marines would never be ready for a surprise attack" (Conroy, Great 25). The turning point in Santini occurs when Bull is finally beaten by his son in a basketball game. It marks the first time that Bull has ever been beaten in anything.

The source for the male abusive figure in each of Conroy's books is his real life father Col. Donald Conroy. He was a "...marine fighter pilot ... [remembered] as a sadistic bully who routinely battered his wife and sons" (Castro NP). Conroy remembers many incidences where his father "put me up on the wall by my throat and lifted me off the ground...[It] was like a lynching," (Hall 85). When asked about Pat treatment as a child, his brother Jim says "My first memory of Pat was when I was about four and he was 13 and my dad was slamming his head against the wall for not doing well in a basketball game" (Castro NP).

The female figure in each of Conroy's books is abusive like her husband, but in a different way. Lila Wingo in the Prince is verbally abusive to the point where her children contemplate suicide. When Lila has a stillborn child, her suicidal daughter Savanna says, "she [the stillborn child] is one of the lucky ones...I wish I could be with her..."(Conroy, Prince 146). Her verbal abuse consists mostly of insulting everything her children do. In Santini, Lillian is always yelling at her children, "Get your shoulder's back. You're slouching again" (Conroy, Great 13) She tries to convince them that their father's abuse is justified and necessary. In Santini, "Lillian Meecham... sees only what she wants to see and subtly reinforces the code of her tyrannical husband" (Toolan 51). She always sees Tom as the neutral territory between her and the other two children that she could not dominate (Godwin 45). Her character is very contradictory: "Lila Wingo [is a] beautiful, adoring mother who betrays her children and her husband..." (Weeks 44).

One of the forms of verbal abuse often used by Lila in Prince is her demanding silence from her children. "Lila Wingo belongs to that species of southern mothers described in The Lords of Discipline who 'rule their families with a secret pact of steel'..." (Godwin 45). When three men break into the Wingo house and rape Tom, Susanna and Luke, she doesn't let them call the police and makes them promise never to tell anyone about it. "Don't you dare [call the sheriff], we're Wingos. We have too much pride to tell what happened today" (Conroy, Prince 416).

Lila Wingo is also ambitious just as Conroy's mother was. She "despises [her husband's] brutality and dreams of moving up in Colleton Society" (Sheppard 46). When the local women's group has a cooking contest, Lila enters an original recipe to show them that she is as high class as they are. The reply she receives is bitterly insulting, so as far as to say, "...You must tell me what cookbook you copied that recipe out of. It sounds absolutely divine." (Conroy, Prince 227).

Conroy's mother was ambitious to the point that she divorced her husband as soon as he left the military because he no longer promoted her position in life. "I never knew a woman who lusted so openly...for the grace and prestige of a family history she would never have... she burned to be what she could never be" said Conroy in an interview with the Atlanta Journal (Toolan 52).

Tom, the protagonist in Prince has a life that is remarkably similar to Conroy's. Both Conroy and Tom have very strong views about racial issues. After Conroy was fired from his job teaching white students, Conroy began teaching blacks on Dufauskie Island off the coast of South Carolina. He did that primarily because of his need to change the world; he was "full tilt against racism" (York 48). However, after teaching for a few years, he became cynical. "I don't think I effected their lives significantly," said Conroy about his students, "They were imprisoned by the very circumstances of their birth ..." (Willingham 56). In Prince, Tom and his siblings are the only one's at first to stick up for Benji Washington, the new black kid in school.

Another character that resembles Conroy is Ben Meecham in Santini, Both Conroy and Ben moved almost yearly throughout their childhood. "As a nomadic military brat himself, Conroy surely knew young Ben's longing 'for a sense of place, of belonging and of permanence...and friends whose faces did not change yearly'"(Toolan 51). Conroy shows that forcing a child to move to a new area to extremely damaging, especially in combination with the type of verbal abuse to which the children in his books are subjected.

Conroy's writing was like therapy to him. He wrote about the horrible experience that was his childhood. "His characters deal with troubled and twisted family conflicts" ("Pat" NP). He wrote about his father, the abusive monster; he wrote about his mother, a person who covered everything in self-serving lies; finally, he wrote about his own life and the profound and everlasting effect of child abuse upon the young mind. "Conroy's autobiographical novels...exhibit the chaos and calamities of his life" (Castro NP).

Works Cited

Castro, Peter. "Bio: Pat Conroy, Sober and Confident." People Magazine 14 Aug. 1995: From the Electronic Library (NP)

Conroy, Pat. The Great Santini. New York: Bantam, 1987

---. The Prince of Tides. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1989

Godwin, Gail. "Conroy, Pat." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. 45-46.

Hall, Sharon L., ed. "Conroy, Pat" Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. 43-44.

Martelle, Scott. "Conroy Finds Best-Selling Fiction in Real Life Dramas of His Family." Gannett News Service, 5 Jul 1995, From the Electronic Library (NP)

"Pat Conroy negotiating to write next sequel to ‘Gone With the Wind'." Computer Software: Netscape. Address: http://www.accessatlanta.com/news/1998/01/23/ gwtw.html

Sheppard, R. Z. "The Unfinished Boy & His Pain" Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. 50-53.

Toolan, David. "Conroy, Pat." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. p. 44-45.

Weeks, Brigitte. "Conroy, Pat." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. 44-45.

Willingham, Robert. "Pat Conroy" Twentieth Century Literary Criticism 1992 ed. 55-58.

York, Lamar. "Conroy, Pat." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 74, 1991 ed. P. 47-50.


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