Confederates In The Attic Summary and Study Guide

Tony Horwitz

Confederates In The Attic

  • 50-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 15 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English
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Confederates In The Attic Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 50-page guide for “Confederates In The Attic” by Tony Horwitz includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 15 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The “Lost Cause”: The Nostalgia and Romance of the Antebellum South and The Heritage of the South: Confederate Symbols and Monuments.

Plot Summary

Confederates in the Attic is a non-fiction book written by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz. The book is a mixture of ethnography—the study of a specific group of people in a specific place—and travel writing, where Horwitz attempts to dive deeply into his childhood fascination for the American Civil War by traveling through the deep South, visiting Confederate battlefields, museums, and monuments, and interviewing the locals that he comes into contact with about their relationship to the Civil War and their thoughts on present-day America.

In Confederates in the Attic, Horwitz blocks his narrative into specific locations, choosing to discuss his entire visit to an individual state in one section before closing out and moving on to the next stop along his journey. Moreover, while many works of nonfiction will often have a central thesis that the author is trying to argue and prove, Confederates in the Attic lacks a central argument at its core; rather, it is more of an exploration of a place and people, and the presentation of what Horwitz uncovers along the way. Taken as a whole, the book can be seen as organized like a bicycle wheel, where the idea of “The South” sits in the middle and the spokes attaching to it represent the individual states that are joined to it: they are not the same, but similar, and each requires the other to construct the whole of the object and allow for it to function properly.

By dividing Confederates in the Attic into fifteen distinct chapters where each centers around a specific place, Horwitz creates a sense of uniqueness among the different Southern states and the people who populate them. The reader begins to see that though the idea of “The South” as a singular block might be the popular perception of the region, the area is actually a nuanced collection of individual locales that each have their own distinct flavors, customs, and traditions that may vary slightly or greatly from those of their neighbors. However, what ultimately emerges from Horwitz’s study are the themes that serve to bind and create Southern Culture, especially among the white Southerners that Horwitz interviews: nostalgia, family, land, loss, heritage, and displacement.

Despite spending the vast majority of the book speaking with white Southerners, Horwitz does not neglect to contrast their view with that of their African-American counterparts. In doing so, Horwitz attempts to unpack the continued racial tension and strife that dogs the South to the present day. These topics include such debates about the displaying of Confederate Memorials in public places, the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag, and the legacy of integration and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Horwitz’s varied subjects do not shy away from confessing their honest opinion, however blunt or politically incorrect they may be, which gives the book a sense of honesty and immediacy where the reader feels as though they, too, are in the room listening to the exchanges between Horwitz and his interviewees.

Almost akin to a long interview, in Confederates in the Attic Horwitz paints a picture of the South using its inhabitants as the colors. Ultimately, he does not come to any definitive conclusion about his time and travels in the American South. If anything, he is left with more unanswered questions than when he started his journey, but by the end of the book, he seems to have come to an understanding as to what informs a way of thinking that appears foreign and distant for people living in other parts of America.

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