Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712
*Southwestern Kentucky. Region of Kentucky stretching from Bowling Green to the Mississippi River, containing valleys and rolling hills; an intense agricultural region that long depended heavily on tobacco production. The region contrasts greatly with the Appalachian regions of eastern Kentucky, with their mountain culture and troubled history of coal mining, and the region also differs sharply from the traditionally genteel “blue grass” and bourbon areas of the state’s northern section, around Lexington and Louisville. Despite being intensely agricultural, southwestern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee comprise an area of independent farms of varying sizes quite different from the plantation economy of the Deep South’s cotton industry. The intense individualism of the tobacco farmers tended to make the formation of the tobacco growers’ association somewhat difficult, creating differences of opinion about methods of protest. As Warren’s novel reveals, these philosophical differences erupted into violence against tobacco growers who failed to cooperate with the association—a fictional event suggested by regional history.
In addition to describing the events that led to the conflict known as the Black Patch War, Warren provides memorable descriptions of the physical terrain of this area, describing it as a plateau of wooded hills and arable valleys, with hardwood forests and inspiring ridge-top vistas. However, Warren also realistically depicts the region’s propensity for violence, resulting in part from its memories of the Civil War and ranging from acts of racial hatred to the barn burnings and midnight murders of the tobacco growers’ association.
Bardsville. Fictional town where the tobacco growers in the novel form their first association, debate political and economic issues, and hold public trials. Warren based the town partly on his personal memories of Clarksville, Tennessee, a major commercial center on the Cumberland River, across the state border from southwestern Kentucky. Bardsville may also have elements of Warren’s native Guthrie, Kentucky, where the historical tobacco growers’ association was formed in 1904.
Warren tended to make the fictional Bardsville a kind of archetypal symbol of southern agricultural towns at the turn of the twentieth century. In contrast to what he did in Night Rider, he used the real name of Clarksville in “Prime Leaf” his first published treatment of the conflict in 1931. In yet another famous novella, “The Circus in the Attic” (1948), Warren depicts another Bardsville, which has even more of the character of a self-satisfied village, sketching its historical development through World War II as this history was reflected in the frustrated experience of Bolton Lovehart.
Monclair. Kentucky senator Tolliver’s mansion, in reality an enormous farmhouse commanding a view of the nearby hills that serves as one of the headquarters of the tobacco growers’ political program. The mansion is an ironic representation of Tolliver’s spurious leadership and dubious gentility. Its eventual destruction symbolizes the declining fortunes of the tobacco growers’ movement.
Proudfit’s cabin. Home of the independent farmer Willie Proudfit. In contrast to Monclair, which the gentleman farmer and lawyer Percy Munn envies early in the novel, Proudfit’s rough-hewn cabin serves as both a refuge from the law and an opportunity for Munn to gain a more realistic perspective on his flawed crusade and his own identity. There, too, the elemental countryside and the backwoods Proudfit family offer a commonsense contrast to the exalted social status he has sought.
American West. Broadly defined section of the western United States depicted as a region of aimless violence and moral chaos in Proudfit’s narrative of his past as a buffalo hunter, plainsman, and Indian fighter. Although Proudfit returned to southwestern Kentucky, his original home, with its seeming tranquillity because he came to experience a personal revulsion against the destructive world of the frontier days on the Great Plains of the West, his story suggests—through an unromantic description of the destruction of the buffalo and the eruption of wars with Native Americans—that in the midst of turmoil, he discovered the futility of violence and the importance of self-understanding. His narrative describing the crucible of violence he has endured provides an ironic commentary on the process of moral disintegration that takes place within Percy Munn, as he drifts from bourgeois passivity to idealistic passion and finally to a surrender to self-destructive outlawry and violence.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260
Burt, John. “Social Realism and Romance: Night Rider.” In Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Analysis of Munn as a character caught in the dilemma of “social naturalism”: intellectual acceptance of naturalistic philosophy and the antithetical “desire to discover some seat of human integrity and to articulate self-knowledge.”
Guttenberg, Barnett. “Night Rider.” In Web of Being: The Novels of Robert Penn Warren. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1975. Discusssion of Munn as an existential hero attempting to combine quests for personal identity and ideal justice.
Justus, James H. “Night Rider: An Adequate Definition of Terror.” In The Achievement of Robert Penn Warren. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981. Discussion of the novel’s historical roots, themes, and techniques, especially the use of symbolic actions and of the protagonist as the governing point of view.
Law, Richard. “Night Rider and the Issue of Naturalism: The ‘Nightmare’ of Our Age.” In Robert Penn Warren: Critical Perspectives, edited by Neil Nakadate. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. Analysis of Night Rider as a philosophical novel portraying the conflict between human will and scientific determinism. Sees the focus upon Munn’s consciousness as Warren’s technique for demonstrating its limitations.
Ryan, Alvin S. “Robert Penn Warren’s Night Rider: The Nihilism of the Isolated Temperament.” In Robert Penn Warren: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by John Lewis Longley, Jr. New York: New York University Press, 1965. Interpretation of Munn as a man attempting to move from isolation to communion but failing because he lacks self-knowledge and, thus, the means to act.