How the Civil War endures in American life through literature and culture.
Recipient of the Eric Hoffer Award's Montaigne Medal
The American Civil War lives on in our collective imagination like few other events. The story of the war has been retold in countless films, novels, poems, memoirs, plays, sculptures, and monuments. Often remembered as an emancipatory struggle, as an attempt to destroy slavery in America now and forever, it is also memorialized as a fight for Southern independence; as a fratricide that divided the national family; and as a dark, cruel conflict defined by its brutality. What do these stories, myths, and rumors have in common, and what do they teach us about modern America?
In this fascinating book, Cody Marrs reveals how these narratives evolved over time and why they acquired such lasting power. Marrs addresses an eclectic range of texts, traditions, and creators, from Walt Whitman, Abram Ryan, and Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Mitchell, D. W. Griffith, and W. E. B. Du Bois. He also identifies several basic plots about the Civil War that anchor public memory and continually compete for cultural primacy. In other words, from the perspective of American cultural memory, there is no single Civil War.
Whether they fill us with elation or terror; whether they side with the North or the South; whether they come from the 1860s, the 1960s, or today, these stories all make one thing vividly clear: the Civil War is an ongoing conflict, persisting not merely as a cultural touchstone but as an unresolved struggle through which Americans inevitably define themselves. A timely, evocative, and beautifully written book, Not Even Past is essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil War and its role in American history.
Cody Marrs is an associate professor of English at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Long Civil War, the editor of The New Melville Studies, and the coeditor of Timelines of American Literature.