Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Southwestern Kentucky

*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.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.