Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

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 As a Confederate soldier, Pleasant finds his personal vendetta superseded by the greater purpose of the war; his story implies that the strength of the Southern tradition, reexamined and reassessed, will inspire a new generation in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.