Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623
During their travels in the U.S. South, author James Agee and photographer Walker Evans met and interacted with hundreds of people. While their experiences with the three tenant farmer families are featured in the text and images, the overall texture of the book is enriched through the multiplicity of persons. The people primarily featured are identified as members of the Gudger, Ricketts, and Woods families. As the book is nonfiction, the people included are not characters in the strictest sense, but Agee definitely shapes their presentations into literary form. They are also called by pseudonyms. In another regard, Agee himself is a character, as he often probes his reasons, reactions, and behavior in carrying out the project.
Interactions not only with the subjects whose impoverished lives they sought to document, but random meetings with others along the way and attributions to random fellow-travelers also augment the environment that Walker aims to create—an impressionistic, personalized landscape that cannot be mistaken for objective, realist journalism. In an initial list, along with family names and relationships, Agee includes himself and Evans, literary and historical sources spanning from William Blake to Ring Lardner, and even Jesus Christ.
Agee emerges as decidedly uncomfortable with his role, portraying himself not as just an intruder but even a spy. Prying into people’s lives does not come naturally to him. Paradoxically, this frank self-consciousness very likely influenced people to open up to him and even reveal hidden truths—very like a spy. Their right to privacy, however limited when their images are also included, was supported by the use of pseudonyms; their actual identities were later revealed. The Gudger, Ricketts, and Woods families’ real names are Burroughs, Tengle (or Tingle), and Fields, respectively.
The three families are related by marriage, as two Woods daughters are married to Gudger and Ricketts men. The Gudgers are George; his wife, Annie Mae, nee Woods; and their four children. The Rickettses are Fred and Sadie, also both a Wood;, and their six children. The Woodses are Thomas (“Bud”) and Ivy, and three children.
George and Annie Mae are amply represented, and Agee’s text often corresponds well to Evans’s portrait of Annie Mae as he describes the effects of poverty on her body: “slender, and sharpened through with bone, that ten years past much have...
(The entire section contains 623 words.)
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