As literature, this novel (the source of "The Birth of a Nation", the first feature-length motion picture) is laughably dated by its flowery romanticism. As history, its twisted adoration of the Klan, highly-colored and cynical condemnation of Northern abolitionism, and even fallen-hero worship of Abraham Lincoln as the would-be savior of the defeated south is execrable. But as social history (and part of "The Novel as American Social History" series from the University of Kentucky Press) it is fascinating reading.
Dixon was no wild-eyed radical, either. He was born in Shelby, NC, graduated from Wake Forest University when it was actually in Wake Forest, NC, and rose to prominence in the Democratic Party, eventually being appointed a Federal judge in eastern NC and living and dieing in Raleigh. So his fictional insight into the mind of the white Southerner is frighteningly clear.
All white Southerners were heroic knights (Lincoln, when met by the mother of a Southern boy, was declared to be a Southerner because no Northern man could be so wise and gallant), all white Southern women were saints (never more so than when they were sewing 400,000 white sheets for the Klan in total secrecy!), and of course the villain of the piece is a Northern businessman and factory owner. Freed slaves are never more than pitiful, pitiable, ignorant, fawning pawns in his game, characterized as animals with yellow eyes and thick lips.
Given these characterizations, should it be surprising the positive light Dixon casts on the foundation of the Klan, and the rightness and righteousness of its purposes by any means?
In the end, given the constraints of the genre and the language prevalent at the time (1905) Dixon was writing, he actually did a serviceable job of weaving his twisted history into readable fiction. The introduction points out that the book had modest success that was fading and would have been forgotten had Dixon not been asked to write the script for his novel for what was to become the first feature length movie, and one of the most famous ever made.
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Todd Stockslager (TStocksl)
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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" The year was 1865. With the close of the Civil War, there began for the South, an era of even greater turmoil. In The Clansman, his controversial 1905 novel, later the basis of the motion picture The Birth of a Nation, Thomas Dixon, describes the social, political, and economic disintegration that plagued the South during Reconstruction, depicting the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the reactions of two families to racial conflict. This study in social history was alternatively praised and damned by contemporary critics. As historian Thomas D. Clark notes in his introduction, the novel "opened wider a vein of racial hatred which was to poison further an age already in social and political upheaval. Dixon had in fact given voice in his novel to one of the most powerful latent forces in the social and political mind of the South." For modern readers, The Clansman probes the roots of the racial violence that still haunts our society.