The Great Santini Summary

Pat Conroy

The Great Santini

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The Great Santini Summary

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The Great Santini(1976) is abouta Marine fighter pilot’s zealously strict upbringing of his children. The book was written by Pat Conroy, an American writer who grew up within a military family and worked for the military before becoming a full-time writer. In interviews, Conroy has confirmed that the book is heavily based on events from his own life.Themes include unconditional loyalty to family and state and the love of humorous, yet tyrannical figures.

The novel is told in the third person and set in 1962. The US is not at war (though the Vietnam War will begin in a year), and the family’s patriarch, Lt. Col. Wilbur Meecham, acts as if his family and the service are political entities to manage and subdue. He introduces himself to anyone below his rank, as well as any civilian who will listen, as “The Great Santini.”

The first scene details a farewell party for Meecham at the Cordova Hotel near the piers in Barcelona. Meecham and his fellow pilots have been drinking most of the day and cause the other guests to complain. When the manager of the hotel, Pedro, asks them to go to their rooms, Meecham and the pilots perform various pranks on Pedro, the others guests, and the other naval troops that complained about the noise they were making. This involves staging a death, Meecham using mushroom soup to pretend to vomit on stage in front of all the hotel’s guests, and throwing glass bottles into a fireplace.

The next morning, Colonel Luther Windham calls him in to his office for a write up;instead, he gives him a respectful and formal farewell.

Meecham’sfamily, who have not seen him for a year, await his return at an airport in South Carolina. They talk among themselves about leaving Atlanta and what their new town in Beaufort, South Carolina will be like.

Though focused on the father, The Great Santini’s protagonist is Ben Meecham, the oldest son. Readers watch as Ben grows from a teenager who is shy around girls, to a young man having his first drink and being toasted by his father as the finest son in the world.

While waiting for Meecham to appear, Ben and his three siblings, along with their mother, Lillian, know it will be a painful journey for them to fit into the new town. Ben dreads the return of his father, and notices that his mother is already acting more tough and anxious.

Meecham, whose nickname is “Bull,” takes command of Squadron 367 in South Carolina. He continues to treat his family as a military project. Ben thinks of him as impossible to please and longs for freedom after his senior year of high school. Meecham is sadistic on occasion; when the family first drives to the Marine Air Field in Beaufort, he runs over turtles in the road to stay awake.

Though “Bull” swears frequently, drinks a lot, and hits his children, Lillian still loves him; he shows love for his family when he defends Ben and the middle child, Matt, from a gang, and makes the extra effort to ensure that his daughter,Mary Anne has her own prom dress.

Still, Ben thinks of him as a bully. Every Saturday morning, he commands his children to have their rooms perfectly clean and ready for his inspection. They cannot do anything else until their rooms are cleaned to his standard. Each of them also must be prepared to help their mother with all chores as soon as she barks the order.

Ben’s relationship with his father is bittersweet. He feels compelled to win his father’s love, even when his demands are nonsensical. At times, he judges his father to be self-centered and on the cusp of insanity. He is also tasked with being the leader of his three younger siblings, a role filled with pressure that he does not find to be fair.

The only person who has some control over Meecham is his wife. When Lillian tells him to use a fork, not his hands, at dinner, he silently does so.

Bull tells Ben one day that he is going on a date with the daughter of one of his peers. Her name is Ansley Matthews, and her father wants her to date someone other than a football jock. Ben tries to wiggle his way out of it, but Bull is persistent. Ansley does not want to go on this date either, and tells Ben that her boyfriend has threatened to beat up whomever she dates and that she feels trapped under her father. Later, Ben gets in a fight with Ansley’s boyfriend.

Ben plays basketball in high school, and eventually makes varsity.He is also less prejudiced than some of his classmates; he befriends a Jewish student and a black farmer.

Ben bonds with his unorthodox English teacher, Ogden Loring. He also receives sex education training from a registered nurse after the nuns in Catechism classes chose not to teach about sex.

Near the novel’s end, on a routine flight schedule, Bull’s engine explodes, and he is killed.

The mourning family moves back to Atlanta, Georgia, where Lillian grew up and her mother still lives. While driving the family’s car, Ben thinks he never truly hated his father, but only loved him.