The Mind of the South
THIS is that one American book in ten thousand that makes us, for the sake of the national health, wish it could be universal compulsory reading. What the nation needs for health is unity. It is trying to whoop up unity by all sorts of promotional devices, most of them purely incantatory. Mr. Cash goes after unity in the hard, slow, ultimately sure way: by a systematically patient, lucid, reasonable, thorough, fundamental attack on a sectional misunderstanding. In content his book is a cultural history of the Southern states, done in bold, rapid, outlining strokes to about 1840, filled in with increasing detail and documentation thereafter, and focused steadily on bringing into relief the South’s ‘fairly definite mental pattern, associated with a fairly definite social pattern.’ In effect his chapters have the remarkable property of making the South seem thoroughly comprehensible and even inevitable to the North while making it seem fantastic and slightly incredible to itself. Every typical exchange of views between Southerner and Yankee is nullified by the impression of each that the other’s point of view is gratuitously rabid, perverse, and outrageous. When Mr. Cash gets through working on the pair the Southerner is a good deal abashed and suddenly disposed toward
the most salutary kind of self-criticism, while the Yankee perceives for the first time that the Southerner’s cockeyed notions about the Negro, Southern Womanhood, the Late Unpleasantness, and many another stock casus belli are simply the cockeyed notions he would have himself if he had been raised in Alabama. These 400-odd brilliant pages by a Southern journalist possess the power to make understanding flourish and triumph in one of the areas where bigotry and misunderstanding have been the norm for a century. The book is a literary and a moral miracle. W. F.