Honestly, I didn’t think this book was that great. I had a couple problems with it, but the biggest problem was that I pretty much hated the protagonist: Georgie Amberson Minafer. You’re supposed to hate him – he’s an arrogant, self-centered, stuck-up little rich boy who grows into an intolerable young man. I understand why the author needed us to hate him, and I have seen unsympathetic protagonists work, but I just didn’t think it was very successful here. The plot is slow to develop, so you spend the first half of the book just reading about the annoying antics of this character that you loathe. And there aren’t really any other good characters to take the sting out of it. The rest of his family is just as bad in their own way. And the only characters who seem like they might be likable become unlikable as soon as you meet them because they like Georgie. You just want to scream – why do you people like this guy?!
The plot finally does start to pick up around half-way through and at least at that point I was interested to keep reading to see what happens. But it’s just painful and no fun to read through. Again, you spend a lot of time screaming at the characters – don’t let him do this to you! But they do. There is finally some satisfaction towards the end when Georgie finally gets his “come-uppance” in the form of the downfall of the old family (it’s pretty clear from the back of the book that this will happen, and very clearly foreshadowed early on, so this isn’t really a “spoiler”). But by that point so many lives have been ruined that you don’t even really care anymore.
It is the downfall of the family that makes this book a social commentary, and I suppose why it was chosen for the Pulitzer. The Ambersons were indeed magnificent, but by the end of the book they have fallen into ruin and new families have taken their place. This “new money” society is built by men of industry who actually do things, like build cars. Cars have a major role in the book – cars become more popular, their use spreads and the city grows just as the Ambersons, with their horse-drawn carriages and big lawns, decline. The city becomes so big that no one cares about the Ambersons anymore. By the time Georgie gets his “come-uppance” the people who were waiting for it don’t even remember that they were waiting anymore.