Richard Ford’s Wildlife tackles a rite-of-passage. The main character, Joe Brinson, goes back to the events of his teenage life and further understands the realities of life. The vast mountains and the forest fires in this novel set the plot and the action within the novel’s four major characters. The lives of the characters are strongly influenced by their surroundings. As the novel fumes with a sense of disorientation and alienation, Joe is also filled by his sense of searching and finding of his own self. He is a mysterious sum of his actions and people could not even generalize how he would act or react in various life situations.
Being young, there is a solid justification to the sense of responsibility which might be missing in Joe’s actions and decisions. It excuses him to be known to the problems and challenges of the world. Joe is not responsible for any of their family’s misfortunes. At the onset, moving to another place is in itself problematic. The story opens up with their family transferring to Montana. It reflects how Joe is not yet familiar with the world around him. Hence, he is pressured to move through a newfound place and a whole new world of more adult dimensions. This is being complicated by the childish actions of his parents.
Intrinsically, Joe is passive in his relations to his environment. He does not inquire much and he usually reacts according to what he believes others expect him to do. In these important moments, he transfers the obscurity of his character to the audience. His confusion is felt and the readers can truly empathize with his dilemma. The forming of his identity and self is revealed by his very own confusion and this is the strength or the effectiveness of the main character. This is where the plot and themes revolve.
People make choices in life which sometimes seem unreasonable or uncharacteristic of their whole being. Yet, the characters, especially Joe, reveal how human people are. The main character is entangled with a moral dilemma and conflict. Being sixteen, the unfolding of the life events seems hasty and obscure. Joe characterizes the person who is helpless with the larger forces outside himself, forces that show who he is. The coming together of the narrative tension leads to greater tension. It is where Joe comes to resolve everything with himself.