“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee


A death in the family is an autobiographical book by James Agee. The writing of the book started in 1944, but the book was printed in 1957, two years after the death of its writer James Agee. The novel is entirely based on what happened when the author visited his father, who was suffering from a heart attack. His father later died in a car crash. This novel tries to bring out the hardships that the descendant of this man went through after the death of their sole breadwinner. It further discusses marital love, religious issues, and brings out the rural and urban settings contradictions. It also shows how valuable a breadwinner is in any family. Upon the breadwinner’s death, there is a very high chance for all the family members to suffer.

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Major incidents

Major characters in this book are Rufus, his father Jay, Mary, and Catherine. The book starts with Jay taking his son Rufus to the theatre and then to a bar for a movie. Their mother, Mary, is unhappy with this behavior. This shows that she is sensitive towards her son. The theme of alcoholism is also discussed in the article. This comes out when Jay’s brother calls to inform their father that Grampa has suffered from a heart attack because of taking alcohol. It is in the morning, but Jay is still drunk.

However, even though Jay is a drunkard, he is on good terms with his wife. He leaves for the rural area to look after his father. Mary is agitated by the fact that she hates the father-in-law. The differences between rural and urban settings are portrayed by the suffering of the people that Jay meets on his way home. Jay died in a road accident. The theme of love between a daughter and a mother is evident in the paper. Catherine is too concerned with this issue. Another theme in this book is religion.

Mary and Hannah are the only people who believe in the existence of God. They are followers of the Catholic Church. Mary answers all questions about life and prayers using Christian views. The children’s perception is seen as a major theme in this book. This book reflects the realities in life through which the children perceive. The use of symbolism is also notable in the novel by using a butterfly during Jay’s burial. It symbolizes the hopes that all the people who depended on him should lean on to cope with life.

Jay is a reckless and irresponsible person. He drives while under the influence of alcohol hence gets involved in a road accident. Jay children, Rufus and Catherine, are naive as they joke about the death of their father. Also, Rufus is an intelligent and brilliant boy as he persistently asks questions expecting logical answers. The perception of the children about death is such that Catherine thinks he has just disappeared. Mary is a sensitive and intelligent person as she encourages her children to treat all people equally, whether black or white.


Mary and her children will face hard times due to Jay’s death, who was a key pillar in the family and a breadwinner. These are the key challenges that people go through as a result of losing a dependable person. The book outlines how one should accept certain phenomena like death and cope with such instances. However, the book should have addressed the strategies which should be laid down to help the family of the deceased.

From this book, it is clear that one must not wholly depend on another but should try to be a bit independent in life. The book largely influenced my thinking in that one’s life is shaped by his actions and the level of responsibility. One should express a higher degree level of responsibility.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, January 15). “A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-death-in-the-family-novel-by-james-agee/

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"“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee." StudyCorgi, 15 Jan. 2021, studycorgi.com/a-death-in-the-family-novel-by-james-agee/.

1. StudyCorgi. "“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee." January 15, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-death-in-the-family-novel-by-james-agee/.


StudyCorgi. "“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee." January 15, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-death-in-the-family-novel-by-james-agee/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee." January 15, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-death-in-the-family-novel-by-james-agee/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“A Death in the Family” Novel by James Agee'. 15 January.

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