Professor’s new house. Built with funds from the prize money the professor has won because of his distinguished contributions to history, this house has all the modern conveniences possible, but it also is the site of growing family dissension, perhaps best indicated by the separate rooms and baths for the professor and his wife, Lillian, and by the increasing materialistic competition between his daughters and their husbands, as revealed in family social occasions held at the house.
Outland. Large “Norwegian manor house” erected on the shores of Lake Michigan as the Marsellus country retreat; named as a memorial to Tom Outland and his invention, which has revolutionized airplane engines, thus bringing a fortune to Louie Marsellus and the professor’s oldest daughter, Rosamund. The professor scorns the extravagance and aesthetic inappropriateness of this mansion, but he particularly objects to the home as a desecration of the memory of Tom Outland, who stands throughout the novel for the values of intellectual integrity and aesthetic simplicity.
Cliff City. The middle part of the novel, told from the perspective of Tom Outland in the memory of Professor St. Peter, centers on Outland’s discovery of some fabulous cliff dwellings, presumably never seen before by non-Native Americans. Based on the discoveries of similar remains in what is today Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, “Tom Outland’s Story” emphasizes the superiority of this ancient culture to the values of twentieth century America. That superiority is mirrored in the buildings themselves, which when first seen by Tom are compared to “sculpture.” A tower in the midst of the houses provides a center around which the dwellings cluster to form a compositional aesthetic having to do with peace and eternity.
Tom’s excavation of the buildings and his discoveries of archaeological and artistic artifacts, together with the purity of the location, result in an imaginative and almost religious experience. He leaves the mesa a changed man. When he arrives in Hamilton to go to college and meets the professor, he brings with him an intelligence and values sparked by his discoveries. His relationship with the professor is mutually productive. Both of their imaginations are fed by Outland’s youthful explorations of the cliff houses. The professor’s writing of history becomes more insightful and lyrical, while Outland himself succeeds with his inventive scientific breakthroughs. It is Outland’s untimely death in World War I, the professor’s completion of his life’s scholarly historical works, and his growing alienation from his family that force the dislocated professor to reevaluate his future and realize that happiness and joy may well be behind him.