Confederates in the Attic Themes
The main themes in Confederates in the Attic are Southern racial divides, idolatry of the Confederacy, and the shadow of the Civil War.
- Southern racial divides: More than one hundred years after the end of the Civil War, racial tensions between White and Black Southerners persist in various forms.
- Idolatry of the Confederacy: Many Southerners continue to feel connected to the legacy of the Confederacy, whether through heritage or ideology.
- The shadow of the Civil War: The Civil War has defined the shape of Southern culture and has determined how the South is perceived.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705
Southern Racial Divides
Throughout his reportage for Confederates in the Attic , Tony Horwitz comes across examples of tensions between White and Black Southerners that continue to persist more than a century after the Civil War. As Horwitz travels, he stops in Vicksburg and finds that despite the town living...
(The entire section contains 705 words.)
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Southern Racial Divides
Throughout his reportage for Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz comes across examples of tensions between White and Black Southerners that continue to persist more than a century after the Civil War. As Horwitz travels, he stops in Vicksburg and finds that despite the town living together in relative peace, there is still a divide between the Black and White citizens. It is almost as if each group has separate lives and holidays that the other group does not participate in. He points out that the town escaped a lot of violence during the Civil Rights movement and that it has a good economy because of gambling and tourism, and yet these factors do not heal the racial divide. Community separation shows how Black people and White people view the South and the Civil War in very different terms.
A contemporary event that represents this continued divide is the case of Michael Westerman, which Horwitz covers at the time of its occurrence. Westerman had been driving through the town of Guthrie, Kentucky, with a confederate flag emblazoned on his pickup truck, when he was shot by a group of Black teenagers in another vehicle. Such incidents show how the symbolism of the flag—and the contemporary meaning of the Confederacy in general—are clear points of contention. In the very same town, Horwitz speaks to White Southerners who embody an ongoing commitment to the spirit Confederacy and who express racist views. The divide is far from healed, and the legacy of the Civil War is far from resolved.
Idolatry of the Confederacy
A trend that Horwitz notes is that many Southerners still idolize the Confederacy—and for a variety of reasons. For some people, the Confederacy remains meaningful because of their personal family connections to the Civil War and to Confederate soldiers. They live in places and drive by battlefields where their relatives fought and died. They have memorabilia in the house that have been passed down through generations. In the case of Alberta Martin, the connection is even more intimate: at the time of the book’s publication, she was reported to be the last living widow of a Confederate soldier.
For some, the Confederacy is an important part of the South’s heritage and history. Horwitz accompanies Robert Lee Hodge on a “Civil Wargasm,” a tour of reenactments of Civil War battles. For Hodge, such reenactments are an opportunity to connect with Southern and Confederate history in a tangible way.
Other Southerners view the Confederacy as an ongoing cause. The ideology of the Confederate States lives on in these Southerners, who, according to Horwitz, still “rant about perfidious Yankees and the sanctity of the rebel flag.”
For still other Southerners, their connection to the Confederacy is a way to spark hatred and express racist sentiments. For such Southerners, the Confederate flag is a totem charged with a spirit of conservatism that entails regressive social agendas and, in many cases, outright racism. In their hands, the Confederacy is invoked as a means to ground their views and to provoke their enemies, for whom the idea of the Confederacy is anathema.
The Shadow of the Civil War
In his research, Horwitz recognizes the ways that the Civil War shapes both internal and external perceptions of the Southern states today. He notes that history is not merely in the past when it has an impact on the present. In some ways, the Civil War casts a shadow over the way the rest of the nation views the South, despite the many decades that have transpired since its conclusion.
The influence of the Civil War on Southern culture can result in accurate perceptions. Indeed, some ideals that the Confederacy held are still considered sacred in the South. One example of this is the tendency of people from the South to proclaim a desire for states’ rights, which was one of the central principles of the Confederacy.
According to some Southerners Horwitz speaks to, the Civil War marked a turning point in American culture, after which the North defined the course of the country as a whole. From such a view, the contemporary South can be seen as a reflection of how things once were.