The painful experiences of the Civil War and Reconstruction have impeded the modern Southern writer from exploring two of the most significant events affecting the South, according to Louis Rubin, English professor at the University of North Carolina.
"Is there a major Southern novel about Reconstruction, one that gets at its real issues,?" asked Rubin."I know of none."
Rubin spoke yesterday at a day-long symposium, "Reconstruction and the South: A Centennial Retrospective," at the Kay Spiritual Life Center at Amercan University. The symposium, bringing together several scholars, was held in connection with the 100th anniversary of the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. The withdrawal on April 24, 1877, concluded the 12-year period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction.
Rubin, an expert on Southern literature, said the novel "Gone With the Wind" might be the single exception to his theory. Despite the novel's flaws in accuracy and bais, said Rubin, it still contained psychological accuracy in the depiction of Scarlett O'Hara's relationship to catastrophe and social change.
Margaret Mitchell was able to write the novel, Rubin said, because she did not question the historical myths of the South. "Had she really known better, I doubt that, she could have doen it." he amplified. "Faulkner, who doubtless knew better, did not try it, and neither have many of his contemporaries.
The English professor also said the Reconstruction helped to retard the flourishing of a major Southern literatry tradition. Most white Southerners were opposed to Reconstruction.
Rubin continued: "This meant that it proved next to impossible for 50 years after Appomattox Court House, for the Southern writer to subject the life and society he knew to the kind of searching moral and social scrutiny . . . that made important literature possible.
Not until World War 1 could the Southern writer look about and "for the first time see that the Yankees were not to blame for everything - that the fall of man, not the fall of Richmond, was also importantly involved in his relationship to his society."
In discussing the legacy of the Reconstruction, Prof. Thomas C. Holt of Harvard said there were two major failures of the post-Civil War period - the failure to establish an economic base for blacks and a failure to change racial attitudes of Southern whites.
He said the Reconstruction and the civil rights activity of the '60s (termed the Second Reconstruction by some historians) were similar in terms of racial prejudice, black political participation and the socio-economic content of political change.
Despite similarities, however, "history does not repeat itself," said Holt. "Men do."
Other speakers at the symposium were Willie Lee Rose. Michael Les Benedict, Herbert G. Gutman, Edwin M. Yoder Jr. and William Dillion.