The Morning Watch

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The Morning Watch by James Agee, like his A Death in the Family, which won him the Pulitzer Prize, is autobiographical. It describes the experiences of twelve-year-old Richard during the early hours of Good Friday and the early stages of spring, in a church school in the Tennessee mountains. In this story of change and visitations, Agee has come close to a small triumph: he has pierced the protective shell of a boy’s personality and exposed his religious exaltation without once falling into bathos. During his watch in the chapel, Richard’s deepest thoughts and feelings are disturbed by weak flesh and childish imaginings. In tone, image, movement, and occasional obscure symbolism, this short novel has something of the quality of a dark poem, plumbing the inextricability of good, evil, beauty, preposterousness, the simple, and the unfathomable, in more or less ordinary sensations and motives. It is a story clear on its surface, but beneath that surface dreamlike in its complexity and ambiguity. Its rare mix of perception and disciplined lyricism have made this novel a minor classic.