James Agee’s autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, recalls his tranquil childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the tragic event that hastened his loss of innocence and security—the death of his father, Hugh James (Jay) Agee. The novel’s manuscript, on which its author had been working for years, was left incomplete at Agee’s sudden death in 1955. Edited and published in 1957, it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
A Death in the Family offers a compelling look at the Follet family’s reaction to the death of a young father, exploring the loneliness of the self and contentment brought about by family members. The fundamental differences in the character and personality of Mary and Jay Follet are revealed early in the novel; the mother’s religiosity and serious disposition is contrasted with her husband’s more independent and spontaneous nature. Much of the action is filtered through the experience, perception, and sense impressions of Rufus, their six-year-old son, whose loving relationship with his father is powerfully evoked in the novel’s opening chapter.
In the middle of the night, Jay receives a phone call that summons him to the country and to his ailing father. Rufus and his younger sister, Catherine, are asleep when the telephone rings; their father decides not to wake them for he plans to return in time for supper. The ties of family relationships—trivial, intimate, tender—are evoked...
(The entire section is 405 words.)