"And If I Weep, My Tear Be Thine..." : Social Aspects of the Reconstruction South as Illustrated in the Letters of John Muse Hart, Jr. and Mary Virginia Tucker
Adams, Catherine T.
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There are many ways in which elements of history, such as the letters of John and Jennie Hart, can be used to preserve events, feelings and attitudes. The most basic manner would be simply to provide the text as a means of allowing one to form opinions. They could be used to write a biographical history or as a local history. What I have chosen to do with the letters is to use them to illustrate the society of which they were a part. To do so, it is first necessary to have some understanding of the basic attitudes of the people. The impact which Southern culture had on all aspects of society was great. The Reconstruction South retained many characteristics of the ante-bellum South, and although the media-created and traditional images of the romantic, chivalrous, and honorable society have been greatly exaggerated, the image is certainly based on fact. Socially, the South was permeated with rules of conduct, etiquette and attitudes which ran deep through the society. The most prominent attitude was the idea of honor. John and Jennie Hart alone made no great impact on history. Yet by reviewing their attitudes and values, which I hope to show were typical of the time and situation, we can understand how the every day men and women came to view their society. In their letters, John and Jennie show how people held the ethic of honor in high regard. They illustrate how society's rules of conduct dictated their actions. Through their words, they show how the common people reacted to the presence of illness and death, the emancipation of blacks, and to their former enemies from the North. They illustrate the place of business, religion and education in their society. Using the original series of letters, supplemented by other written material, served my purpose better than extensive research of secondary works or known primary sources would have. The obscurity of the letters serves to firmly support many of my assumptions and some of the stereotypes. By using a primary, unpublished and common source to illustrate the ideas, ethics and rules which I have previously suggested, the illusion• becomes more realistic. The stereotypically portrayed South is taken out of "Tara" and found true to form in the rural reality.