(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In this nonfiction work, Erskine Caldwell reflects on his life as a minister’s son in the American South. He describes the social norms of white, rural, Fundamentalist sects that—while varying widely in their religious practices—share an unwavering faith in the virgin birth, the second coming of Christ, the direct creation of humanity by God, miraculous healing, answers to prayers, personal salvation, and physical life after death.

Caldwell sets his reflections against the landscape of the South so vividly portrayed in his best-known novels, Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre (1933). This is a land of muddy, rutted roads lined with tumbledown shacks and trod by impoverished tenant farmers. Once-white paint peels on sagging country churches where wasps buzz under the eaves. The region’s only change between the 1920’s and the 1960’s was the displacement of the horse by the automobile.

Caldwell’s reminiscences focus on his father, Ira Sylvester, a pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian faith who, at various times, held church posts throughout the South. Wherever they went, father and son attended religious observances: all-night camp meetings, baptismal immersions in streams, foot-washings, blood-drinking communions, snake-handlings, and speaking in tongues. Ira Sylvester hoped the wide-ranging experience would protect his son against the tyranny of dogma and prejudice.

A dignified...

(The entire section is 425 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Arnold, Edwin T., ed. Conversations with Erskine Caldwell. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.

Cook, Sylvia Jenkins. Erskine Caldwell and the Fiction of Poverty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Klevar, Harvey L. Erskine Caldwell: A Biography. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.