Written during the Civil War, CUDJO’S CAVE mingles elements of propaganda with its historical setting and romantic theme. Because the novel displays deep sincerity, however, and a considerable degree of literary skill, it has enjoyed a popularity outlasting by many years the political issues which gave it birth. The book presents clearly and forcefully the problem of the rural population in Tennessee during that difficult time of decision at the beginning of the Civil War period. In that particular time and place the problem was peculiarly acute because Tennessee was a border state and its citizens had many reasons for indecision when faced by the realities of conflict between North and South. John Townsend Trowbridge, working close to actual history, dramatized effectively the guerrilla warfare fought among the people of Tennessee and Kentucky.
At times, the plot comes close to melodrama, but the narrative strength and the skill of many characterizations manages to raise the action to a higher level. The villains in the tale are the least convincing characters; most of the time, they are no more than sketches, without depth or subtlety. No doubt many men committed such vile acts, but the reader is given no insight into their deeper instincts or motivations. Another flaw in the book is the dialogue, which is at times stilted and unrealistic. In particular, Old Toby’s black dialect and Carl’s German accent are both unconvincing, falling...
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