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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

As a character, Agee’s message is simple. Life is to be lived in its trials, its tribulations, its duty and its beauty. I am reminded of a character, a friend of an industrialist, who was deliberately planted amongst the workers, to break their trade union unity. The friend was so moved with their pathetic working and living conditions, that he himself became their leader and ‘betrayed’ his original friend. This book also saw the light of the day under strange circumstances. Two men (Agee was one of them) accepted an assignment in 1936 to create a magazine article on the conditions of white sharecropper families in US south.

The writers chose three sharecropping families, who lived in not poverty but stark poverty. To whom tomorrow’s bread was assured from today’s labor. That was the period when U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs designed to improve the poorest segments of the society had been introduced. Little did the authors then realized that they were set to create a masterpiece of literature of great socio-spiritual impact on, not only the American people, but right-thinking people all over the world. Agee-a journey through the inner world ….

What Agee saw and experienced in those weeks of research, brought out the best in him. Such literary marvel would have not been possible through library research, and arm-chair journalism. He got an opportunity to study human beings of all types, all ages, from a baby in the cradle (actually there was no cradle, because poor persons can not afford the comfort of cradles for their babies) to the “beauty in the sunset” old persons. A person with the spiritual bent of mind gives the best literature to the society, when he is exposed to human beings living in the worst conditions, both social and economic.

. Although at heart it is the story of the three families, the Gudgers, Woods, and Ricketts (pseudonyms for the Burroughs, Tengles and Fields), at many places Agee appears as a character himself, as the narrator. This contributes to the dramatic element of the story. Agee gives us the story of those people who contributed much to the prosperity of USA, and in return what they got was pittance. But those people had no complaints, they were not even aware that they were being systematically exploited by the scheming rich class which bossed over them. He gives us a great Depression-era literature.

What makes Agee’s book great and what makes Agee great, is his willingness to live through his experiences. The day-to-day human experience is part of the story of his actual living with them and sharing their sorrows. Such experiments brought out the best philosophical approach to life lying latent within him. Therefore, the book never ceases to hold our attention and it kindles sympathetic curiosity. Agee writes, “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through, My treasures and my hopes, are, all beyond the sky, I’ve many, friends, and kindreds, that’s gone, along before, And I can’t, feel, at home, in this world, only, more.

”(p. 48) Agee has arrested the story of a generation, which will never be seen or repeated in the face of Earth for all time to come. Therefore, his book can be called as the time-capsule. John Hersey is absolutely right when he observes “There had never been, and there will never be, anything quite like this book. ”(p. xxviii-introduction) Conclusion: Agee has given a very interesting book. The totality of the theme of the book, and the author’s attitude towards the theme, both evoke continuous curiosity. The level of detachment achieved by the author while depicting his various characters is commendable.

Without giving room for too much sentimentalism, situations manifest clearly, grow and attain new dimensions. The novel deserves an outstanding position on account of this approach to literature. The mutual interactions over situations, between different characters, reveal in the most natural way, the convictions for which the novel stands for. This is the uniqueness of the novel. Agee has dealt with this new topic in a lucid style and as the story develops, it becomes poignant, without losing its ground and reality. Therefore, this is a literary gem.

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