A Summons to Memphis Study Guide

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A Summons to Memphis By Peter Taylor

At the opening of A Summons to Memphis, the main character Phillip has just moved to Memphis after being called upon by his sisters, who want his assistance in preventing his elderly father from getting married. Most of the story occurs in the form of memories Phillip has as he ponders the history of his once well-off family.

Forced to leave Nashville when the Great Depression hit (because his lawyer father lost almost all of his money in a failed association with then-friend and business partner Lewis Shackleford), Phillip and his siblings felt gravely betrayed by their father. Since that day, none of them have been able to form a stable relationship or even function as normal adults in the world. The elder Mr. Carver also continued to rule his children with an iron hand, killing any chance they had at romance if he had even the slightest reason to dislike the object of their affections.

Phillip's older bother responds to this crushing dominion by escaping into the Army, ultimately perishing in World War II. Phillip and his sisters never do end up married; instead, his sisters insist on futilely attempting to cling to their long-faded adolescence well into their senior years, still strutting about and dressing like teenage girls looking for a boy to play with. Phillip eventually moves to New York and takes up residence with a young lady until the 'summons' referenced in the book's title reaches him: his father, now in his 80s, is planning on remarrying after the death of Phillip's mother, and his sisters are desperate to stop him.

This Pulitzer-prize winning book explores the responsibilities that parents have toward themselves and their children, the friendships between gentlemen, the 'old South' versus the 'new South', the flaws of vengefulness, and the redemptive hope of forgiveness.

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