Part 1 of the novel’s three parts opens with Rufus (James Agee’s real, and detested, nickname) being taken, joyously, by Jay, his father, to see a slapstick Charlie Chaplin movie, one that is all the funnier for being slightly risqué. Afterward, deciding to “hoist a couple,” Jay takes Rufus into a bar, where Jay brags about his boy’s reading ability, which Rufus, somewhat dismayed, realizes is his father’s way of not embarrassing him about his inability to fight off other boys. Balance is soon restored, the bonding tightens, and the contract between them reaffirms, as Rufus is offered a Life Saver—man-to-man—as Jay uses another to cloak his breath and Rufus grasps that when his father sets out on a slow, contented pace homeward it is because Jay genuinely savors time spent with his son. That gentle night, as Rufus drifts into sleep, he hears his father telling his mother that he will return before the kids are awake and then the grinding sounds of the family Ford being cranked. In the morning, Mary explains why Jay is not at breakfast.
His parents were awakened by a phone call from Jay’s younger brother, Ralph. Ralph and Jay’s ill father lives on a farm miles out of Knoxville, and the message was that their father is dying. Jay decided, chancing that his brother was right, to make the trip. Mary prepared Jay for his journey while Rufus and his younger sister, Catherine, slept.
Rufus imagines his father’s thoughts as he drove to the farm: Jay’s thoughts of home, encounters at the ferry, and the pleasant feel of Jay moving into his home country. Rufus imagines Mary, too, strict and religious,...
(The entire section is 670 words.)