In "The Dump Ground," Wallace Stegner describes the town dump in Whitemud from childhood memories, still vivid after the passage of years. His essay is a gradual buildup of images, all of which contribute to our overall impression of Whitemud and the people who have lived there. Stegner's memories of the dump are powerfully rendered in prose steeped in sensory images. His layering of images conveys a sense of melancholy for what has been lost to the town dump, as well as what will be lost by succeeding generations.
If the reader looks through Stegner's lost and found pile of images, it is possible to ascertain a thematic yearning for the town's roots--its collective history as evidenced by what it has thrown away. By the end of his essay Stegner explicitly tells the reader what has been shown all along: "a community may be as well judged by what it throws away--what it has to throw away and what it chooses to--as by any other evidence" (36). He even goes so far as to call the dump "our poetry" (36). In the sense that poetry is seldom useful, but always memorable, the dump is poetry. The manner in which seeing personal items at the dump evokes strong memories in the author is evidence that the dump is, in fact, poetry.
The town dump is representative of the communal nature of Whitemud, and in a larger sense, all humanity. The dump is not exclusive; rather, it is all inclusive. It encompasses all of Whitemud's humanity, and in this sense, it is a powerful place for Stegner. It triggers personal memories, and communal ones--it is the town's collective consciousness, the place where all personal and social roads must end. As Whitemud's first community enterprise, the dump stands as the community's oldest institution. In a sense it is the father of all the town, having been at the beginning of all successive generations.
Stegner gets a glimpse of his own mortality when he finds some volumes from a set of Shakespeare t...