LITERATURE: A Death in The Family – Point of View

It was mentioned as a Note in the beginning of this book that James Agee died suddenly prior to the final draft of this novel.  Some pages that are in the pov of Rufus, the son of Jay and Mary, have been placed in the back of two sections of the story and I’m in the middle of one now.

It’s wonderfully touching and painfully real, especially when we’re allowed into Rufus’ head as some older boys tease him:

It puzzled him very deeply.  If they knew his name all the time, as apparently they did, then why did they keep on asking, as if they had never heard it, or as if they couldn’t remember it?  It was just to tease.  But why did they want to tease?  Why did they get such fun out of it?  Why was it so much fun, to pretend to be so nice and so really interested, to pretend it so well that somebody else believed you in spite of himself, just so that he would show that he was deceived once again, because if you honestly did mean it, this time, he didn’t want to not tell you when you honestly seemed to want so much to know.  (p. 164)

Every day on their way to school the older boys stop and ask Rufus his name, then make fun of it as not appropriate for a white boy.  This brings in the racial relations once again, and in his own family, their attitude is one of almost condescension, so Rufus is already confused on the issue.  He also is anxious to please and looking for friends so he really wants to believe that at least some of the boys are sincere.  They coax him into singing and dancing for them, all the while for their own amusement. 

Kids are always at that point of learning, turning another corner as they learn about the world and its people.  They’re sharp at determining motives and reading intentions.  Unfortunately their judgement is often clouded by their desire to be liked and accepted.  Rufus is suspicious but it takes him a while to accept that some people are just mean.

Beautifully done, but as with much of this novel, it just seems that Agee wrote every impulse, every feeling, every nuance and detail written out so that in this unedited version, it just goes on too long.

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