Incoming Tide Olive Kittredge Analysis Essay

The title character in Elizabeth Strout’s novel Olive Kitteridge is not an altogether likable person. As a widow in her seventies, Olive is just as difficult as she was three decades earlier, when she terrorized her seventh-graders. During their long lifetime together, she routinely opposed and criticized her kindly, long-suffering husband Henry, and she effectively drove away their only child, Christopher. However, Olive does elicit respect, if not always affection, from the other residents of Crosby, Maine, for though she is tactless, she is incapable of pretense, and sometimes she can be surprisingly kind. In any case, Strout evidently realized that though Olive is a fascinating character, a novel written entirely from her perspective would be difficult to read. Wisely, the author chose to organize her work as a collection of connected short stories. In that way, she could avoid having the book dominated by Olive, and, by changing frequently from one point of view to another, she could present both the title character and the other people in her village from several different perspectives.

Thus the initial story, or chapter, is told not from Olive’s point of view but from that of Henry. As the title “Pharmacy” suggests, his work is of central importance in Henry’s life. As a pharmacist, he can help others, not only by carefully filling their prescriptions but also by simply listening to them. Moreover, when he is at the pharmacy, he does not have to deal with Olive’s fits of temperament or her gratuitous cruelty, which she displays in dozens of ways (for example, by stubbornly refusing to accompany him to church, despite the fact that he is embarrassed by her absence). Olive’s comment about Henry’s new clerk, Denise Thibodeau, is typical: The girl is unimpressive, Olive points out, and her posture is poor. When Henry invites Denise and her young husband over for dinner, Olive objects, and then, after Henry overrides her veto, she serves her guests nothing but a plateful of baked beans and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. However, Denise proves to be the bright spot in Henry’s life. Though he is much too principled to be unfaithful to Olive, he commits a kind of adultery by letting thoughts of Denise occupy his mind, by having imaginary conversations with her, and even by pretending that it is Denise, not Olive, to whom he is making love. Then Denise’s husband is accidentally killed, and she remarries and moves away. Over the next two decades, Henry continues to feel guilty about his feelings for her. When a note comes from Denise, suddenly Henry understands why Olive had been so inconsolable when a male colleague was killed: Obviously, she had loved him just as Henry had loved Denise. With that realization, Henry’s long-standing guilt is replaced by a new understanding of Olive and new feelings of tenderness toward her.

Though the stories in Olive Kitteridge vary greatly in tonesome of them nostalgic, others sad, and others humorousall of them end as “Pharmacy” did, with an epiphany. One of the saddest stories, “A Different Road,” illustrates how little it takes to mar a relationship. When Olive and Henry are held hostage at the local hospital, they say things in front of their captor that they know they will never be able to forget. In the final story, “River,” for the first time Olive admits her own shortcomings, especially in her treatment of Henry, and she regrets that she cannot go back and make amends. Nevertheless, old habits die hard. When Jack Kennison, a widower, happens along, Olive’s inclination is to look for his flaws. With some amusement, Kennison recognizes the fact that as a well-to-do Republican, he represents everything that Olive loathes. However, after seventy years of finding fault with everyone but herself, Olive finally has to admit that she is not always right. When Jack phones and asks her to come over, she knows that she will end up in bed with him. Almost too late, she has realized that life is short and that love is too important to be wasted.

Nevertheless, love, or desire passing for love, accounts for a good deal of the misery in Olive Kitteridge. One of the funniest stories...

(The entire section is 1716 words.)



In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer's eyes, it's in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama-desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life-sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition-its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

People * USA Today * The Atlantic * The Washington Post Book World * Seattle Post-Intelligencer * Entertainment Weekly * The Christian Science Monitor * San Francisco Chronicle * Salon * San Antonio Express-News * Chicago Tribune * The Wall Street Journal

"Perceptive, deeply empathetic . . . Olive is the axis around which these thirteen complex, relentlessly human narratives spin themselves into Elizabeth Strout's unforgettable novel in stories." --O: The Oprah Magazine

"Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge . . . . You'll never forget her. . . . [Elizabeth Strout] constructs her stories with rich irony and moments of genuine surprise and intense emotion. . . . Glorious, powerful stuff." --USA Today

"Funny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original. When she's not onstage, we look forward to her return. The book is a page-turner because of her." -- San Francisco Chronicle

" Olive Kitteridge still lingers in memory like a treasured photograph." --Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Rarely does a story collection pack such a gutsy emotional punch." --Entertainment Weekly

"Strout animates the ordinary with astonishing force. . . . [She] makes us experience not only the terrors of change but also the terrifying hope that change can bring: she plunges us into these churning waters and we come up gasping for air." --The New Yorker

From the Hardcover edition.

Elizabeth Strout (born January 6, 1956) is an American author of fiction. She was born in Portland, Maine. After graduating from Bates College, she spent a year in Oxford, England. In 1982 she graduated with honors, and received both a law degree from the Syracuse University College of Law and a Certificate of Gerontology from the Syracuse School of Social Work.

Strout wrote Amy and Isabelle over the course of six or seven years, which when published was shortlisted for the 2000 Orange Prize and nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Amy and Isabelle was made into a television movie starring Elisabeth Shue and was produced by Oprah Winfrey's studio, Harpo Films. Strout was a NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) professor at Colgate University during the Fall Semester of 2007, where she taught creative writing. She was also on the faculty of the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 2009 Strout was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories she wrote about a woman and her immediate family who lived on the coast of Maine. Strout also wrote The Burgess Boys in 2013 which made The New York Times Best Seller List. Ms. Strout's title, My name is Lucy Barton, made the New York Times Best Seller List in 2016. Her newest title, Anything is Possible (2017), won the 2018 Story Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)


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