Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
To Tate, slavery is a symptom rather than root of the conflict. Lacy’s father owns some twenty slaves but refuses to sell them, even though his failing fortunes can no longer maintain them. In contrast to this ideal of the Southern paterfamilias, the merchant George Posey sells his own half-brother, Yellow Jim, in order to buy a fancy horse. However, Tate is no simple apologist for slavery. He lays bare the Old South’s delusions of grandeur by juxtaposing a neighboring plantation’s “Tournament of Chivalry” with a pathetic scene of slaves who have been “sold down the river.” He also critiques the casual brutality attendant upon the Southern code of honor. The Tournament of Chivalry ends with a fist-fight that foreshadows the thoughtless violence the Buchan clan perpetuates in the final section of the novel, in which Lacy’s brother summarily executes Yellow Jim–who may or may not have raped young Jane Posey. Similarly, the Buchan household is redolent with family secrets and sexual tensions that the adolescent narrator Lacy hints at but cannot openly address.
*Georgetown. Famous Washington, D.C., neighborhood that lies across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia. Georgetown’s proximity to both the Union capital and Confederate Virginia graphically illustrates the novel’s central conflict between federal and states’ rights. Georgetown is the symbolic antithesis to Pleasant Hill. After turning over their estate to George Posey, the Buchans move first to Alexandria, Virginia, then to Georgetown, residing in houses that lack both sense of place and tradition. Stripped of his duties in maintaining Pleasant Hill, Lacy’s father idles away the hours with his devoted slave Coriolanus.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, Lacy moves to the Posey house in Georgetown. Half stone and half brick in construction, the Posey house symbolizes the transition between an older landed gentry still connected to the land and the modern capitalist class divorced from its traditional values.
*Washington, D.C. Federal capital. Tate uses Civil War Washington as a symbolic backdrop of his antifederalist philosophy. He notes, with historical accuracy, that both the dome of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument are only half-finished–symbols that the national government has not yet consolidated its power over the states. He also satirizes the self-perpetuating, artificial aristocracy made up of Washington’s political and social elite. Even the Northern writer Henry Adams makes a cameo in the novel–not as the future author of Democracy: An American Novel (1880) but as a intellectual blowhard who affects the grace and camaraderie of his Southern counterparts. However, the axiom that bad places give rise to bad literature is best illustrated by the fictional character Jarman Posey. George’s Uncle Jarman is a kind of antebellum Marcel Proust, a neurotic aesthete who never leaves his room and wastes his life writing an unreadable history of the Ice Age. He symbolizes both the modern dissociation from life-giving connection with the land and a new barbarism of the modern world built upon the forces of laissez faire capitalism as practiced by his nephew George.