Are there any paragraphs that are supposed to make you cringe?
With the discussion of intense topics such as race, prejudice, history, and identity, it is only natural that there will be moments in Confederates in the Attic where one cringes. The issues that Horowitz raises are far from settled and strike at the very essence of one's being.
One example of this is in the chapter entitled, "A Death For Dixie." In describing the community in which Michael Westerman lived, one cringes at the description of life, a condition of being where reveling in the death of a Civil Rights icon is public consumption:
Westerman had grown up in the small town of Guthrie, which lies in former plantation country at Todd County's southern edge... Last year, during the three-day weekend marketing Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s birthday, a biker bar called Redbone's Saloon posted flyers proclaiming "Fuck Martin Luther King's B. Day" and inviting people to a "Thank God for James Earl Ray Party."
The intense reservoir of prejudice and division that exists in how some people in Guthrie viewed people of color makes one cringe. The flyers that denigrate Dr. King and praise his assassin are meant to make one cringe in order to face the condition of being that exists in our world.
In the same way, Horowitz discusses the events that led to Westerman's death in an equally "cringe" worthy manner. When one recognizes the dangers of discrimination and prejudice in the White community, Horowitz illuminates a similar volatility in the African- American community:
That Saturday afternoon, in Guthrie's black neighborhood, a seventeen-year-old Damien Darden, who had borrowed his mother's car, was collecting friends for a trip to the movies. When Darden made a stop on Guthrie's main street, Michael Westerman drove past,... Darden had previously seen a red truck with a rebel flag cruising through black areas of Guthrie. "Let's go whip that dude," he declared.
The idea that someone would be killed so easily because of a flag that flew from his truck is something that is intended to make the reader cringe. The mere mention of "Let's go whip that dude" without reflection or hesitation is, itself, something to make a person cringe. There is no reticence towards taking a life. There is little desire for dialogue. There is only an act of destruction and in the notion of "Let's go whip that dude," there is a desire to collectivize the act of murder. It is cringeworthy to see how murder and violence are acts of communion in the form of coming together.
Racism and prejudice are shown as forces that bring out the very worst in human beings. These conditions are ones in which the more sinister demons in our nature rise, making one cringe at the result. These paragraphs go very far in making the reader cringe at the results of racism and discrimination. They result in reveling in the taking of life, and the discarding of human dignity. To view this in such stark and immediate detail makes the reader cringe.