Robert Penn Warren American Literature Analysis
Warren’s poetry and fiction often meditate on the twin mysteries of time and identity. Childhood is half remembered and half mythologized as a time of ignorance and innocence, sometimes expressed in terms borrowed from religion. It is a remembered paradise from which one inevitably falls from grace through original sin—that is, some malicious act or an insight into the moral ambiguity of oneself and others.
Original sin, as Warren uses the term, is not traceable to evil inherited from Adam’s initial disobedience, as Christian myth describes it, but is a normal development in the process of growing up. In that sense, guilt is inevitable, and the need for redemption is a psychological state peculiar to the human psyche. There is some element of inheritance in the nature of one’s individual burden of guilt, however, as the time and place of one’s birth help determine the kind of illusion, sin, or temptation one encounters. Like many southern writers of Warren’s generation, his being engrossed later in the history of the South, with its double jeopardy of inherited racial conflicts and defeat in the Civil War, adds a special depth to more personal family and individual problems. In this affinity for regional sorrows and predicaments, he is akin to his contemporary William Faulkner.
In some cases, the problem of identity and its moral implications are dramatized as a quest involving fathers and sons. The protagonist is often a young man...
(The entire section is 4067 words.)
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