Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1581
First published: 1936
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of work: 1857-1862
Locale: Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee
Lawrence McIvor, the narrator and William McIvor's son
Cameron McIvor, his grandfather, an Alabama planter
Pleasant, Cameron McIvor's favorite son and his avenger
Levi, Pleasant's brothers
Eli McIvor, Pleasant's uncle
Tyson Lovell, the leader of a gang of slave speculators
Lieutenant Roswell Ellis, Pleasant's friend
Albert Sidney Johnston, a Confederate general
Lawrence McIvor was twenty-two when he heard his family's story for the first time. Just out of college, he had been summoned to his Uncle Pleasant's house deep in the coves of Winston County, Alabama. There, through all of one dark winter night, he listened to his kinsmen's tale of hatred and grim vengeance.
The McIvor troubles began in Georgia, at a militia muster where powerful old Cameron McIvor refused to wrestle one of the reckless Caruthers twins. Several days later, Job Caruthers attacked McIvor, and the planter broke the young man's arm. After his recovery, Job and his brother, Mebane, returned a borrowed team of horses in a wind-broken condition. Furious, McIvor shot Job. The brother then started a lawsuit that left the planter almost ruined. McIvor decided to move to Texas. Pleasant, his favored son, was sixteen at the time.
The McIvors traveled by wagon with their cattle and remaining slaves. Near Wetumpka, Alabama, they met Tyson Lovell, a wealthy landowner who offered McIvor five hundred acres of good land to crop on shares. Not long after they had settled in their new home, William, the oldest son, married a storekeeper's daughter and went to live in town. Pleasant and his younger brother, Levi, helped their father and the hands in the fields.
There was something mysterious and sinister about Lovell. After McIvor and Pleasant, tracking a lost mule, found a shack in which two neighbors named Wilton were guarding several strange slaves, the father became convinced that Lovell was a speculator, head of a gang of slave stealers and horse thieves, an organization to which most of their neighbors belonged. Lovell, becoming alarmed, tried to frighten the McIvors into leaving the country, first by having the sheriff discover two stolen slaves in the planter's smokehouse, and later, after McIvor and Lovell quarreled, by swearing out a bench warrant which named McIvor an outlaw.
Defying Lovell, the planter waited for his enemy to act. William came to stay at the farm, but he was called away suddenly by false news of his wife's illness. That night, Pleasant was waylaid and locked in an old church. Before daylight, armed men broke into the McIvor house. While the Wilton brothers held the old planter in his bed, a man named Fox shot him.
The McIvor kin gathered in secret. A few, William among them, argued that the murderers should be punished by the law. Others clamored for an open feud. Grief-crazed over his father's death, Pleasant revealed that he had tracked the gang to its meeting place and learned the names of its forty members. After the court dismissed charges brought by McIvor's widow, she and her family quietly left the country. Pleasant, a young uncle named Eli, and Bob Pritchard, a cousin, swore to answer violent death with violence.
Pleasant and his kinsmen began to terrorize the region. A dishonest district attorney, Lovell's tool, was killed in a fall from an inn balcony. One Wilton was dragged to death by his horse. Another was found shot. Lovell's house burned, and his overseer's charred body was found in the ruins. Fox ran away. After Sheriff Botterall's posse trapped and killed Pritchard, Pleasant resolved to kill secretly and alone. Forcing Botterall into a wild stallion's stall, he lashed the animal until it trampled Lovell's henchman to death. Several of the gang fled to Texas, but Pleasant followed and killed them. He and Eli built a cabin in the wilds of Winston County. From there, he planned to carry on his stealthy, deadly raids around Wetumpka.
Two years after his father's death, he went one night to a house Lovell owned near Buyckville. In hiding, he had not known that Fort Sumter had been fired on until he found Lovell in his study and learned from his mocking enemy that the Civil War had begun. Lovell declared that the army would soon swallow the survivors of his gang; besides, Pleasant had walked into a trap. Hearing bloodhounds baying in the distance, Pleasant boasted that he still intended to make Lovell the last of his victims. After knocking the man unconscious with a pistol, he ran from the house before his trackers could surround it.
Pleasant and Eli joined the Confederate Army, and as a result, Pleasant continued his work of revenge. At Corinth, while on outpost duty, he killed a sergeant and four men from Lovell's gang and arranged the bodies to make them appear as if shot by Federal scouts. Summoned to General Albert Sidney Johnston's headquarters to give his version of the attack, he met Lieutenant Roswell Ellis, on the staff of Colonel Armistead McIvor, Pleasant's cousin from Kentucky. In an army in which there were few binding distinctions of rank, Pleasant and Ellis became friends. Pleasant learned that Fox, his father's murderer, had offered to have Andrew Johnson assassinated and that General Johnston had scornfully rejected the offer. Knowing that Fox was in the neighborhood, he bided his time.
The march toward Shiloh Church began through pouring rain. Two nights before the battle, Pleasant and Ellis were detailed to scout duty along the Federal lines. After Ellis returned to report, Pleasant spent the night in the woods. All the next day, he watched the Federal encampment and waited for the battle to begin. There were delays in bringing up Confederate troops and equipment, however, and the battle of Shiloh was not joined until Sunday morning, April 6, 1862. Pleasant, wandering through the acrid battle haze, found his own company in time to join in a wild charge in which Eli was killed. The Federal troops retreated. Pleasant, shot in the hand, spent the night with a wounded major from Ohio. The next day, the reinforced Federal lines advanced, and the Confederates, with General Beauregard in command after General Johnston's death, began their retreat to Corinth.
Pleasant was with the army at Murfreesboro when he heard that his brother William had been killed. Levi, after nursing his wounded brother, died three days later. Pleasant went to meet his mother at Chattanooga when she drove through the Federal lines to claim her sons' bodies. On his way back to Murfreesboro, Pleasant was glad to have Roswell Ellis' friendship. Ellis was of the living, and Pleasant had seen too many deaths. After Shiloh woods, he was beginning, despairingly, to doubt his vows of hatred and revenge.
Scouting near La Vergne, Pleasant did not return to camp immediately because he was on the track of a Lovell man named Awsumb, but when he looked at his enemy through his gunsights, he was unable to pull the trigger. On his arrival at headquarters, he learned that after his failure to report at once, a brigade had been sent to test the enemy strength at La Vergne. Ellis had been killed in the engagement. Pleasant felt that his delay had caused his friend's death. Ellis had given him back his humanity, and he had destroyed his friend. Following dark and bloody trails of reprisal, he had loved the dead too much and the living too little, and he himself was doomed. He thought of the hills and hidden coves of Winston County. There a deserter from whatever cause he fled could hide forever.
Andrew Lytle was one of the earlier novelists and theorists of the Southern Literary Renaissance. In the mid-1920's, he was drawn into the literary orbit of the influential Nashville poetry magazine THE FUGITIVE, joining such notable Southern writers as John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Caroline Gordon, and Jesse Stuart. His contribution to the Agrarian manifesto I'LL TAKE MY STAND (1930) marked him as deeply and articulately involved with the reinterpretation of Southern tradition in agrarian terms.
One of the main concerns of THE LONG NIGHT is the reassessment of shaken values in a South marked by change. In Lytle's story, the McIvor family is presented as a unified moral force. Their private moral duty, revenge of the murder of the father, coincides with public responsibility, ridding the community of thieves and killers. Pleasant McIvor takes up his grim task with a vengeance, and in the first half of the novel, systematically and single-handedly kills nearly a dozen of his father's murderers. The scenes in which he carries out his mission are blood-tingling, mixing local color and backwoods lore against a background of almost biblical intensity of purpose. Although the novel is structurally flawed, the reader is given an extraordinary insight into the politics and morality of Southern frontier life.
With the onset of the Civil War, the revenge motif, Pleasant McIvor's long night of retribution, begins to yield to a theme of moral development. The war, which brings into focus an entire civilization with its traditions and moral code, shows up the inadequacy of the old morality. As a Confederate soldier, Pleasant finds his personal vendetta superseded by the greater purpose of the war; his story implies that the strength of the Southern tradition, reexamined and reassessed, will inspire a new generation in the South.