The South as Evil Twin

(March 1, 2018) Since the 1960s civil rights era historians have increasingly descended toward a Pious Cause Mythology interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The myth portrays the North as the “good” twin and the South as the “evil” twin.

As one legacy, the South is held responsible for lingering postbellum racism and the country’s slow adoption of progressive ideals. Historian Eric Foner, for example, falsely accuses Southern congressmen as being responsible for the failure of Social Security to initially include household servants because they were mostly African Americans. The true reason for the exclusion was an IRS warning that it would be difficult to enforce compliance in the sector since most employers were housewives who paid their servants with cash.

Lest Pious Cause Mythologists become too enamored with the evil twin narrative, however, they should consider that the metaphor does not always apply as they expect. One example is John Steinbeck’s version of the tale in East of Eden.

The twins are teenagers Aron and Cal Trask who live with their presumably widowed dad, Adam. Aron is the “good” and self-righteous twin. He is like the college student who has been brainwashed with Pious Cause Mythology, while Adam corresponds to the sanctimonious anti-Southern history professor. Aron can only imagine the family’s history as noble and is incapable of investigating the truth for himself. He can only survive in a delusion. Fortunately for Aron, Adam censors the truth from both boys. Thus, Aron is like a snowflake college student who will not permit anyone to speak a contrary opinion even to the point of denying others the right to free speech.

Cal is the “evil” twin because he is skeptical of Adam’s sanitized version of the family history. He suspects it is mostly a self-serving interpretation that hides the truth, which he resolves to learn. When he discovers that his mother is still living but a murderer and an otherwise monstrous person, he can acquiesce to the reality. But when he discloses the facts to Aron, the “good” twin is shattered. His life descends into chaos and irresponsibility. He abandons his family and fiancé. Consequently, Adam physically collapses and Cal emerges as the new family leader. In Steinbeck’s version, the “evil” twin is revealed to be the morally stronger one and the “good” twin is disclosed to be a stuffed shirt, lacking the courage to face the truth. Despite his noble reputation, Adam is disclosed as a well-spring of dishonesty.

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6 thoughts on “The South as Evil Twin

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  6. Valerie Protopapas

    We have missed the whole point on the concepts of good and evil. To begin with, there is no such thing as an individual who is wholly and completely good. Christ said as much in Scripture, when the young man addresses Him as “good Master” and the reply is, “Why do you call Me good? There is none good except God.” Of course, Christ WAS God, but the point He made was that even the best of us has human flaws. Sadly, however, we often equate “goodness” with what we can see. The twin considered “good” here simply has a different type of personality that makes him appear to be “good.” Now there is nothing wrong with being easy going and amenable to people, doing “good” things and etc. The problem arises when such a personality is equated with goodness per se rather than the fact that the individual is simply less difficult to deal with than a person with a stronger and often contrary personality. A cookie that looks well baked and therefore better than one that is burned a bit around the edges is not necessarily better if the baker forgot to put the sugar in the dough! Looks do not always equate on moral issues.

    C. S. Lewis believed that the worst people can make the best saints if they straighten out their lives while a great many “ordinary” people never rise to the level of either sainthood or the opposite; they just sort of “exist.” A well known Confederate cavalryman spoke of his first days in uniform as his regiment moved toward Richmond. In it, there was a man who was very showy and loud and appeared to be the best type of soldier while the young Confederate was small and shy and would have been overlooked in any evaluation of his company. However, in the first skirmish, the man taking all the bows and kudos disappeared into the ambulance service, while the skinny young nobody became a legend. Sadly, we tend to make judgments based upon externals rather than on the things that matter.


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