Need Help Writing an Essay?

Tell us about your assignment and we will find the best writer for your paper

Write My Essay For Me


Photographs reproduced through the cour-
tesy of Farm Security Administration,
United States Department of Agriculture.







Qfie Xibereibe @ t e e s Camfiribge







C ~ I I I I ~ I O ~ T h e Atlantic i2lontlzly Sense, 1Vew Directio~zs,. A Y U

a i j e Bibereibe $re$$


To those of whom the record is made.
In gratefulness and in love.

J. A.
W. E.


by Walker Evans

AT THE TIME, Agee was a youthful-looking twenty-
seven. I think he felt he was elaborately masked, but what
you saw right away – alas for conspiracy – was a faint
rubbing of Harvard and Exeter, a hint of family gentility,
and a trace of romantic idealism. He could be taken for a
likable American young man, an above-average product of
the Great Democracy from any part of the country. He
didn’t look much like a poet, an intellectual, an artist, or a
Christian, each of which he was. Nor was there outward
sign of his paralyzing, self-lacerating anger. His voice was
pronouncedly quiet and low-pitched, though not of “culti-
vated” tone. I t gave the impression of diffidence, but never
of weakness. His accent was more or less unplaceable and it
was somewhat variable. For instance, in Alabama it veered
towards country-southern, and I may say he got away with
this to the farm families and to himself.

His clothes were deliberately cheap, not only because he
was poor but because he wanted to be able to forget them.
He would work a suit into fitting him perfectly by the simple
method of not taking it off much. In due time the cloth would
mold itself to his frame. Cleaning and pressing would have
undone this beautiful process. I exaggerate, but it did seem
sometimes that wind, rain, work, and mockery were his

tailors. O n another score, he felt that wearing good, expensive
clothes involved him in some sort of claim to superiority of
the social kind. Here he occasionally confused his purpose,
and fell over into a knowingly comical inverted dandyism.
H e got more delight out of factory-seconds sneakers and a
sleazy cap than a straight dandy does from waxed calf Peal
shoes and a brushed Lock & Co. bowler.

Physically Agee was quite powerful, in the deceptive way
of uninsistent large men. I n movement he was rather grace-
less. His hands were large, long, bony, light, and uncared for.
His gestures were one of the memorable things about him.
H e seemed to model, fight, and stroke his phrases as he talked.
T h e talk, in the end, was his great distinguishing feature.
H e talked his prose, Agee prose. I t was hardly a twentieth
century style; it had Elizabethan colors. Yet it had extraor-
dinarily knowledgeable contemporary content. I t rolled just
as it reads; but he made it sound natural -something just
there in the air like any other part of the world. How he
did this no one knows. You would have blinked, gaped,
and very likely run from this same talk delivered without
his mysterious ability. I t wasn’t a matter of show, and it
wasn’t necessarily bottle-inspired. Sheer energy of imagina-
tion was what lay behind it. This he matched with physical
energy. Many a man or woman has fallen exhausted to sleep
a t four in the morning bang in the middle of a remarkable
Agee performance, and later learned that the man had
continued it somewhere else until six. Like many born
writers who are floating in the illusory amplitude of their
youth, Agee did a great deal of writing in the air. Often you
had the impulse to gag him and tie a pen to his hand. T h a t
wasn’t necessary; he was an exception among talking writers.
H e wrote -devotedly and incessantly.

Night was his time. I n Alabama he worked I don’t know
how late. Some parts of Let U s Now Praise Famous Men read
as though they were written on the spot at night. Later,
in a small house in Frenchtown, New Jersey, the work, I
think, was largely night-written. Literally the result shows
this; some of the sections read best at night, far in the night.
The first passage of A Country Letter (p. 49), is particularly

Agee worked in what looked like a rush and a rage. I n
Alabama he was possessed with the business, jamming it all
into the days and the nights. H e must not have slept. H e
was driven to see all he could of the families’ day, starting,
of course, a t dawn. I n one way, conditions there were ideal.
H e could live inside the subject, with no distractions. Back-
country poor life wasn’t really far from him, actually. H e
had some of it in his blood, through relatives in Tennessee.
Anyway, he was in flight from New York magazine editorial
offices, from Greenwich Village social-intellectual evenings,
and especially from the whole world of high-minded, well-
bred, money-hued culture, whether authoritarian or liber-
tarian. I n Alabama he sweated and scratched with sub-
merged glee. T h e families understood what he was down
there to do. He’d explained it, in such a way that they were
interested in his work. He wasn’t playing. That is why in
the end he left out certain completed passages that were
entertaining, in an acid way. One of these was a long, grad-
ually hilarious aside on the subject of hens. I t was a virtuoso
piece heightened with allegory and bemused with the pa-
thetic fallacy.

H e won almost everybody in those families – perhaps
too much – even though some of the individuals were
hardbitten, sore, and shrewd. Probably it was his diffidence

that took him into them. That non-assurance was, I think,
a hostage to his very Anglican childhood training. His
Christianity – if a n outsider may try to speak of it – was
a punctured and residual remnant, but it was still a naked,
root emotion. I t was an ex-Church, or non-Church matter,
and it was hardly in evidence. All you saw of it was an
ingrained courtesy, an uncourtly courtesy that emanated
from him towards everyone, perhaps excepting the smugly
rich, the pretentiously genteel, and the police. After a
while, in a round-about way, you discovered that, to him,
human beings were at least possibly immortal and literally
sacred souls.

T h e days with the families came abruptly to a n end.
Their real content and meaning has all been shown. T h e
writing they induced is, among other things, the reflection of
one resolute, private rebellion. Agee’s rebellion was un-
quenchable, self-damaging, deeply principled, infinitely
costly, and ultimately priceless.

New York, 1960

(Serious readers are advised to proceed to the book-proper
after finishing the first section of the Preface. A later return
will do no harm.)

DURINGJuly and August 1936 Walker Evans and I were
traveling in the middle south of this nation, and were engaged
in what, even from the first, has seemed to me rather a curious
piece of work. I t was our business to prepare, for a New York
magazine,’ an article on cotton tenantry in the United States,
in the form of a photographic and verbal record of the daily
living and environment of a n average white family of tenant
farmers. We had first to find and to live with such a family;
and that was the object of our traveling.

We found no one family through which the whole of tenantry
in that country could be justly represented, but decided that
through three we had come to know, our job might with quali-
fied adequacy be done. With the most nearly representative
of the three we lived a little less than four weeks, seeing them
and the others intimately and constantly. At the end of August,
long before we were willing to, we returned into the north and
got our work ready.

For reasons which will not be a part of this volume the article

I Evans was on loan from the Federal Government.

[ xiv ]

was not published. At the end of a year it was, however, re-
leased to us; and in the spring of 1938 an agreement was reached
with a New York publisher for a n expansion of the same mate-
rial i n book form. At the end of another year and a half, for
reasons which, again, will receive later attention, the com-
pleted manuscript was rejected, or withdrawn. I n the spring of
1940 it was accepted by those who now publish it, on condition
that certain words be deleted which are illegal in Massachu-

T h e authors found it possible to make this concession and,
since it rather enhanced a deception, to permit prominence to
the immediate, instead of the generic, title.

This volume is designed in two intentions: as the beginning of
a larger piece of work; and to stand of itself, independent of any
such further work as may be done.

T h e title of this volume is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
T h e title of the work as a whole, this volume included, is

Three Tenant Families.
T h e nominal subject is North American cotton tenantry as

examined in the daily living of three representative white
tenant families.

Actually, the effort is to recognize the stature of a portion of
unimagined existence, and to contrive techniques proper to its
recording, communication, analysis, and defense. More essen-
tially, this is a n independent inquiry into certain normal pre-
dicaments of human divinity.

T h e immediate instruments are two: the motionless camera,
and the printed word. The governing instrument -which is
also one of the centers of the subject -is individual, anti-
authoritative human consciousness.

Ultimately, it is intended that this record and analysis be

exhaustive, with no detail, however trivial it may seem, left
untouched, no relevancy avoided, which lies within the power
of remembrance to maintain, of the intelligence to perceive,
and of the spirit to persist in.

Of this ultimate intention the present volume is merely por-
tent and fragment, experiment, dissonant prologue. Since it is
intended, among other things, as a swindle, a n insult, and a
corrective, the reader will be wise to bear the nominal subject,
and his expectation of its proper treatment, steadily in mind.
For that is the subject with which the authors are dealing,
throughout. If complications arise, that is because they are
trying to deal with it nct as journalists, sociologists, politicians,
entertainers, humanitarians, priests, or artists, but seriously.

T h e photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are

coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative. By
their fewness, and by the impotence of the reader’s eye, this will
be misunderstood by most of that minority which does not
wholly ignore it. I n the interests, however, of the history and
future of photography, that risk seems irrelevant, and this flat
statement necessary.

T h e text was written with reading aloud in mind. That can-
not be recommended; but it is suggested that the reader attend
with his ear to what he takes off the page: for variations of tone,
pace, shape, and dynamics are here particularly unavailable
to the eye alone, and with their loss, a good deal of meaning

I t was intended also that the text be read continuously, as
music is listened to or a film watched, with brief pauses only
where they are self-evident.

Of any attempt on the part of the publishers, or others, to
disguise or in any other way to ingratiate this volume, the
authors must express their regret, their intense disapproval, and,

[ xvi ]

as observers awaiting new contributions to their subject, their

This is a book only by necessity. More seriously, it is a n effort
in human actuality, in which the reader is no less centrally in-
volved than the authors and those of whom they tell. Those
who wish actively to participate in the subject, in whatever de-
gree of understanding, friendship, or hostility, are invited to
address the authors in care of the publishers. I n material that
is used, privately or publicly, names will be withheld on re-





Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O! I have ta’en

Too little care of this! Take physick, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

T h a t thou may’st shake the superflux to them,

And show the heavens more just.

Workers of the world, unite and fight. You have
nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win.=

I These words are quoted here to mislead those who will be misled by them.
They mean, not what the reader may care to think they mean, but what they say.
They are not dealt with directly in this volume; but it is essential that they be used
here, for in the pattern of the work as a whole, they are, in the sonata form, the
second theme; the poetry facing them is the first. I n view of the average reader’s
tendency to label, and of topical dangers to which any man, whether honest, or in-
telligent, or subtle, is a t present liable, it may be well to make the explicit statement
that neither these words nor the authors are the property of any political party,
faith, or faction.

I . The Great Ball on Which We Live.
The world is our home. I t is also the home of many, many

other children, some of whom live in far-away lands. They are
aur world brothers and sisters. …
2. Food, Shelter, and Clothing.

What must any part of the world have in order to be a good
home for man? What does every person need in order to live in
comfort? Let us imagine that we are far out in the fields.
The air is bitter cold and the wind is blowing. Snow is falling,
and by and by it will turn into sleet and rain. We are almost
naked. We have had nothing to eat and are suffering from hun-
ger as well as cold. Suddenly the Queen of the Fairies floats
down and offers us three wishes.

What shall we choose?
‘I shall wish for food, because I a m hungry,’ says Peter.
‘I shall choose clothes to keep out the cold,’ says John.
‘And I shall ask for a house to shelter me from the wind, the

snow, and the rain,’ says little Nell with a shiver.
Now everyone needs food, clothing, and shelter. T h e lives of

most men on the earth are spent in getting these things. I n our
travels we shall wish to learn what our world brothers and sisters
eat, and where their food comes from. We shall wish to see the
houses they dwell in and how they are built. We shall wish also
to know what clothing they use to protect themselves from the
heat and the cold.=

I These are the opening sentences of Around the World With the Children, b y F . B.
Carpenter (published by The American Book Company), a third-grade geography
textbook belonging to Louise Gudger, aged ten, daughter of a cotton tenant.


Fred Garvrin Ricketts

Sadie (Woods) Ricketts
John Garvrin
Flora Merry Lee
Clair Bell

Thomas Gallatin Woods (Bud)

Ivy woods






George Gudger

Annie Mae (Woods) Gudger
Maggie Louise
George Junior
Burt Westly
Valley Few (Squinchy)

a two-mule tenant farmer, aged fifty-


his wife, aged forty-nine.

aged twenty.

aged nineteen.

aged twelve.

aged eleven.

aged ten.

aged nine.

aged four.

. . .. a one-mule tenant farmer, aged fifty-

. . . . his second wife; middle twenties.

. . . . her mother; early fifties.

.. . . Woods’ son by first marriage; a half-
cropper; middle thirties.

. . . . a daughter of the first marriage; aged
eighteen; married.

… . Ivy’s daughter by common-law mar-
riage to a man prior to Woods; aged

…. son of Woods and second wife; aged

.. . . child of second marriage; aged
twenty months.

. . .. a one-mule half-cropper, aged thirty-

…. his wife, aged twenty-seven.

.. . . aged ten.

. . .. aged eight.

.. . . aged four.

… . aged twenty months.

[ xxii ]

Chester Boles
T. Hudson Margraves
Michael Margraves

…. Gudger’s landlord.
}… . landlords to Woods and Ricketts.

Harmon . . .. a landowner and New Deal executive.
Estelle. …. a middle-class young woman.
James Agee …. a spy, traveling as a journalist.
Walker Evans … . a counter-spy, traveling as a photo-

William Blake
Louis-Ferdinand Celine I
Ring Lardner
Jesus Christ
Sigmund Freud
Lonnie Johnson
Irvine Upham

Birmingham …. a large Southern industrial city.
Cherokee City .. . . a county seat; population c. 7000.
Centerboro .. . . county seat for these tenants; c. 1500.
Cookstown . . .. their landlords’ town, and theirs;

c. 300.
Madrid . . . . a crossroads; two stores, four houses.
Hobe’s Hill …. a low plateau of clay, where the ten-

ants live.

I t is two miles to the highway; three to Madrid; seven to Cookstown;
seventeen to Centerboro; twenty-seven to Cherokee City; eighty to Birming-
ham. Transportation, for these families, is by mule or by mule wagon or
on foot. his is not far from the geographic center of the North ~ m e r i c a n
Cotton Belt.

Sadie Ricketts is a half-sister of Woods; Annie Mae Gudger is his daughter.
Since none of the characters or incidents of this volume are fictitious, the

names of most persons, and nearly all names of places, are altered.
The ages given, and tenses throughout, save where it is otherwise obvious

or deliberately ambiguous, are as of the summer of 1936.




JULY 1 9 3 6












(ToWalker Evans.

AGAINST time and the damages of the brain

Sharpen and calibrate. Not yet in full,

Yet in some arbitrated part

Order the f a ~ a d e of the listless summer.

Spies, moving delicately among the enemy,

T h e younger sons, the fools,

Set somewhat aside the dialects and the stained skins of

feigned madness,

Ambiguously signal, baffle, the eluded sentinel.

Edgar, weeping for pity, to the shelf of that sick bluff,

Bring your blind father, and describe a little;

Behold him, part wakened, fallen among field flowers


But undisclosed, withdraw.

Not yet that naked hour when armed,

Disguise flung flat, squarely we challenge the fiend.

Still, comrade, the running of beasts and the ruining


Still captive the old wild king.

‘I SPOKE of this piece of work we were doing as cccurious.” I
had better amplify this.

I t seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly
terrifying, that it could occur to a n association of human be-
ings drawn together through need and chance and for profit
into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into
the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of
human beings, a n ignorant and helpless rural family, for the
purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humilia-
tion of these lives before another group of human beings, in the
name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox
may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and
for a reputation for crusading and for unbias which, when skill-
fully enough qualified, is exchangeable at any bank for money
(and in politics, for votes, job patronage, abelincolnism, etc.1);
and that these people could be capable of meditating this
prospect without the slightest doubt of their qualification to
do a n “honest” piece of work, and with a conscience better than
clear, and in the virtual certitude of almost unanimous public
approval. I t seems curious, further, that the assignment of this
work should have fallen to persons having so extremely different
a form of respect for the subject, and responsibility toward it,
that from the first and inevitably they counted their employers,
and that Government likewise to which one of them was
bonded, among their most dangerous enemies, acted as spies,


guardians, and cheats,~ and trusted no judgment, however
authoritative it claimed to be, save their own: which in many
aspects of the task before them was untrained and uninformed.
I t seems further curious that realizing the extreme corruptness
and difficulty of the circumstances, and the unlikelihood of
achieving in any untainted form what they wished to achieve,
they accepted the work in the first place. And it seems curious
still further that, with all their suspicion of and contempt for
every person and thing to do with the situation, save only for
the tenants and for themselves, and their own intentions, and
with all their realization of the seriousness and mystery of the
subject, and of the human responsibility they undertook, they
so little questioned or doubted their own qualifications for this

All of this, I repeat, seems to me curious, obscene, terrifying,
and unfathomably mysterious.

So does the whole course, in all its detail, of the effort of these
persons to find, and to defend, what they sought: and the nature
of their relationship with those with whom during the searching
stages they came into contact; and the subtlety, importance, and
aimost intangibility of the insights or revelations or oblique sug-
gestions which under different circumstances could never have
materialized; so does the method of research which was partly
evolved by them, partly forced upon them; so does the strange
quality of their relationship with those whose lives they so ten-
derly and sternly respected, and so rashly undertook to investi-
gate and to record.

So does the whole subsequent course and fate of the work: the
causes for its non-publication, the details of its later acceptance

I Une chose permise ne peut pas etre pure.

L’illtgal me va.

Essai de Critiquc Zndircctc.

elsewhere, and of its design; the problems which confronted the
maker of the photographs; and those which confront me as I try
to write of it: the question, Who are you who will read these
words and study these photographs, and through what cause, by
what chance, and for what purpose, and by what right do you
qualify to, and what will you do about it; and the question,
Why we make this book, and set it a t large, and by what right,
and for what purpose, and to what good end, or none: the whole
memory of the South in its six-thousand-mile parade and
flowering outlay of the f a ~ a d e s of cities, and of the eyes in the
streets of towns, and of hotels, and of the trembling heat, and of
the wide wild opening of the tragic land, wearing the trapped
frail flowers of its garden of faces; the fleet flush and flower and
fainting of the human crop it raises; the virulent, insolent, de-
ceitful, pitying, infinitesimal and frenzied running and search-
ing, on this colossal peasant map, of two angry, futile and bot-
tomless, botched and overcomplicated youthful intelligences
in the service of an anger and of a love and of an undiscernible
truth, and in the frightening vanity of their would-be purity;
the sustaining, even now, and forward moving, lifted on the
lifting of this day as ships on a wave, above whom, in a few
hours, night once more will stand up in his stars, and they de-
cline through lamplight and be dreaming statues, of those, each,
whose lives we knew and whom we love and intend well toward,
and of whose living we know little in some while now, save that
quite steadily, in not much possible change for better or much
worse, mute, innocent, helpless and incorporate among that
small-moted and inestimable swarm and pollen stream and
fleet of single, irreparable, unrepeatable existences, they are led,
gently, quite steadily, quite without mercy, each a little farther
toward the washing and the wailing, the sunday suit and the
prettiest dress, the pine box, and the closed clay room whose

[ 10 I
frailly decorated roof, until rain has taken it flat into oblivion,
wears the shape of a ritual scar and of a n inverted boat: curious,
obscene, terrifying, beyond all search of dream unanswerable,
those problems which stand thickly forth like light from all
matter, triviality, chance, intention, and record in the body, of
being, of truth, of conscience, of hope, of hatred, of beauty, of
indignation, of guilt, of betrayal, of innocence, of forgiveness,
of vengeance, of guardianship, of a n indenominable fate, pre-
dicament, destination, and God.

Therefore it is in some fear that I approach those matters a t
all, and in much confusion. And if there are questions in my
mind how to undertake this communication, and there are
many, I must let the least of them be, whether I am boring you,
or whether I am taking too long getting started, and too clum-
sily. If I bore you, that is that. If I am clumsy, that may indi-
cate partly the difficulty of my subject, and the seriousness with
which I am trying to take what hold I can of it; more certainly,
it will indicate my youth, my lack of mastery of my so-called art
or craft, my lack perhaps of talent. Those matters, too, must
reveal themselves as they may. However they turn out, they
cannot be otherwise than true to their conditions, and I would
not wish to conceal these conditions even if I could, for I am
interested to speak as carefully and as near truly as I am able.
No doubt I shall worry myself that I am taking too long getting
started, and shall seriously distress myself over my inability to
create a n organic, mutually sustaining and dependent, and as
it were musical, form: but I must remind myself that I started
with the first word I wrote, and that the centers of my subject
are shifty; and, again, that I am no better a n “artist” than I
am capable of being, under these circumstances, perhaps under
any other; and that this again will find its measurement in the

facts as they are, and will contribute its own measure, whatever
it may be, to the pattern of the effort and truth as a whole.

I might say, in short, but emphatically not in self-excuse, of
which I wish entirely to disarm and disencumber myself, but for
the sake of clear definition, and indication of limits, that I a m
only human. Those works which I most deeply respect have
about them a firm quality of the superhuman, in part because
they refuse to define and limit and crutch, or admit themselves
as human. But to a person of my uncertainty, undertaking a
task of this sort, that plane and manner are not within reach,
and could only falsify what by this manner of effort may at
least less hopelessly approach clarity, and truth.’

‘For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for
him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either
dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole
of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the
aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a
symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of conscious-
ness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to
perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

This is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and
weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time;
and is why in turn I feel such rage a t its misuse: which has
spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of
less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as
my own.’

‘If I had explained myself clearly you would realize by now
that through this non-“artistic” view, this effort to suspend or
destroy imagination, there opens before consciousness, and with-
in it, a universe luminous, spacious, incalculably rich and won-

derful in each detail, as relaxed and natural to the human
swimmer, and as full of glory, as his breathing: and that it is
possible to capture and communicate this universe not so well
by any means of art as through such open terms as I a m trying
it under.

I n a novel, a house or person has his meaning, his existence,
entirely through the writer. Here, a house or a person has only
the most limited of his meaning through me: his true meaning is
much huger. I t is that he exists, in actual being, as you do and
as I do, and as no character of the imagination can possibly exist.
His great weight, mystery, and dignity are in this fact. As for
me, I can tell you of him only what I saw, only so accurately as
in my terms I know how: and this in turn has its chief stature
not in any ability of mine but in the fact that I too exist, not as
a work of fiction, but as a human being. Because of his immeas-
urable weight in actual existence, and because of mine, every
word I tell of him has inevitably a kind of immediacy, a kind of
meaning, not a t all necessarily …

Let our team of professional writers take care of your essay for you! We provide quality and plagiarism free academic papers written from scratch. Sit back, relax, and leave the writing to us! Meet some of our best research paper writing experts. We obey strict privacy policies to secure every byte of information between you and us.