William Stoner is a teacher at a small Midwestern college around the time of World War I who lives a quiet and often tragic life as he struggles with his career and an unhappy marriage. The novel begins by describing William Stoner after his death. We are told that Stoner was a teacher who was forgotten by his students and colleagues and whose life contained no notable achievements. This unusual beginning alerts the reader that this is going to be a downbeat and perhaps tragic tale. Yet Stoner is portrayed, in his own stoic way, as a quietly heroic character. We are then taken to the beginning of Stoner's life, on a Missouri farm in the late 1800s.
Click here to see the rest of this review
Stoner's parents don't expect their son to live any differently than they do, which means working hard on the farm and not expecting any more out of life.
As a young man, decides to attend college. At first he takes agricultural courses so he can contribute more to his parent's farm. Soon, however, he discovers the joys of literature and rebels by completely abandoning the farm to become a teacher.
Although Stoner is a dedicated teacher of English and literature, he does not have natural rapport with students so he is never very popular. Early in his career he is confronted with a moral dilemma as the United States enters World War I and many faculty members join the military. Stoner decides to stay behind, a decision that causes him to be despised by many people in his town and on campus. He is supported, however, by two friends even though they both go to war themselves. His friend David Masters is killed in battle, while Gordon Finch returns to become dean of the faculty. Finch remains Stoner's main ally on campus.
Stoner marries a woman named Edith who comes from a banking family that does not approve of Stoner. Their marriage, however, quickly becomes unhappy as Edith reveals herself to be a cold and self-centered woman. They have a daughter named Grace who becomes an object of contention between them. Edith at first seems completely indifferent to her daughter but later uses her as a way to hurt her husband by preventing him from spending time with Grace.
Stoner has an enemy on campus named Lomax, who does everything he can to subvert Stoner and prevent him from moving forward in his career. Finding himself frustrated both at home and at work, Stoner finds solace when he falls in love with a graduate student named Katherine Driscoll. Although the two are happy for a short time, word of the affair soon gets out. Edith finds out about it, as does Lomax, and Katherine ends up leaving town to avoid a scandal. Stoner then must return to his dismal existence with Edith, though he still manages to take pleasure in his work.
Strangely enough, the most uplifting scenes in the novel occur as Stoner is dying. At this point, Edith becomes kinder and his daughter is nearby. He experiences a kind of mystical experience as he peacefully leaves this world.
Best part of story, including ending:
Although the book is very well written, I did not like the passivity and indecision that characterizes William Stoner's life.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Stoner and Katherine Driscoll first become close. This is the only bright spot in Stoner's life, and Katherine represents a chance for him to start over.
Opinion about the main character:
I did not like the way William Stoner just accepted everything at face value without trying very hard to change anything. For example, he never considers leaving his wife even though she makes his life miserable.