Memory Creates Life: Part I

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readOct 30, 2022

Lillian Smith’s One Hour (1959) is a complex novel that examines a myriad of societal and existential questions from the influence of racism and patriarchy on one’s psyche to the ways we remember and think about death. The novel centers around what Smith calls a “minor plot.” David Landrum, the Episcopal Priest at All Saints Church in the town, narrates the story, writing about the events, from memory, two years after they occurred. He tells us about Susan, an eight-year old girl who accuses Dr. Mark Channing, a respected member of the community and a cancer researcher, or assaulting her in an abandoned store. The narrative details the ways that rumors and deep seated fears lead to the spread of disinformation and mob violence. Throughout, David also struggles within himself to determine whether or not Mark assaulted Susan. For David, he works to construct an image of Mark and works to make that image fit within his friendship with Mark, denying the mass hysteria around him. Ultimately, though David confesses he never really knew Mark, or anyone for that matter.

The entirety of One Hour hinges on memory, the memory of events and the memory of individuals. The novel, in and of itself, is an act of memory and the construction of the events that took place two years before David writes them down. David acts, through the retelling of events, to maintain the images of individuals within the story. He uses memory to place upon them identities that are based on his own experiences with them. Most of these identities shift and change over the course of the novel, but the main thing is that he, along with other characters, uses memory to keep people who have died alive. This happens because David remembers people like Charlie, the choir director who gets murdered at the end of the novel.

One Hour concludes with David ruminating on Charlie’s death but also on Charlie’s continued existence through memory. David writes, “I am not sure what is ahead: or where the next hour lies: except I know it is hidden somewhere in this one, among quiet and noisy and uncounted possibilities. And we, the living, will find it or fail to, as we continue to shape this small piece of time we call our own.” We shape our existence around memory, the memories and stories we tell ourselves. Those stories live alongside us, and they bring the dead back to life as we “shape this small…

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.

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