What Do I Read Next?
Agee’s only other novel, The Morning Watch (1950), is about a boy at a boarding school in the mountains of Tennessee who has a religious reaction to the natural world that surrounds him.
Agee was sent away to school at age nine to St. Andrew’s, a small Episcopalian school. While there, he began a lifelong relationship with Father James Harold Flye. Agee’s correspondences with Flye over the next thirty years, concerning his innermost considerations of moral and spiritual matters, his thoughts on art and alcoholism, and the trials of living, are collected in Letters of James Agee to Father Flye (1962).
A Death in the Family is concerned with the process of coping with death, which is the subject of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s groundbreaking psychology text On Death and Dying (1969). Kubler-Ross was the person who first charted the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
One of the great achievements of this novel is the way it evokes the mood of death and mourning throughout. James Joyce, one of the masters of English literature, was expert at evoking the feeling of life burdened by the knowledge of mortality, especially in the short story “The Dead,” which is considered one of the greatest stories ever written. It is a part of Joyce’s collection Dubliners (1914).
Because of his intense poetic sensibilities and early death, Agee has been treated as a cult figure by some readers. His life is examined in minute detail in Laurence Bergreen’s biography James Agee: A Life (1984), which captures Agee’s magnetic allure while not failing to examine the less admirable aspects of the writer’s life.