- Shim (1953)
- Butcher Bird (1936)
By Ben Rush (SHS)
Reuben Grady Davis was an astonishing author. Davis wrote novels that described life in Mississippi during the late 1800’s. His book reveals Southern life in the “good ol’ days.”
Davis was born on December 22, 1888. He grew up in a small town in the Mississippi Delta called Paynes (“Lloyd”). Reuben Davis’s father, also named Reuben, was a plantation owner and a captain in the confederate army. When Davis was nine, his father was killed serving under the command of General Forrest. Thereafter, Davis did not do well in school. His mother, Louvica Ann, had a very hard time keeping Davis in his studies. In fact, he was expelled from Mississippi College after one term for boxing (“Lloyd”).
After quitting school, Davis traveled throughout the United States on trains. In 1917, Davis entered World War I. He joined the 20th Engineers and went to France. Shortly after, in 1919, Davis was discharged from the army after being hospitalized for a year “Lloyd”). Within the next five years, Davis worked as a plantation manager, railroad flagger, timber foreman, and a planter. In 1926, Davis married Helen Dick (“Reuben “). Helen was a University of Wisconsin graduate and a writer. The couple had two children, Louvica and Nicholas (“Lloyd”).
Davis started writing short stories which were published in magazines like the “Saturday Evening Post,” the “Country Gentleman,” “American Magazine,” and “American Legion” (“Lloyd”). He worked in Philipp, Mississippi, from 1928 to 1936. In addition, Davis worked in Hendersonville, North Carolina, from 1936 to 1939, where he completed his first novel, Butcher Bird.
Later, while working in Carter, Mississippi, Davis completed his second novel, Shim. Both novels take place in Tallahatchie County where Davis grew up. The first novel is about the love between a Negro sharecropper and a young girl named Sophronia. It is the story of sharecroppers and describes the home life, working conditions, and lives of the characters, and it is therefore a novel of local color. Shim, the second novel, is the story of Shim, a fourteen year old who watches the sawmills take over his beloved forests. It is a coming of age novel based upon Reuben Davis’s own experience.
Bertram Wyatt-Brown says in the introduction to the recent publication of Shim by the University of Mississippi Press that Davis’s understanding of African-American humanity sets him apart from all but a handful of other white southern writers of his time….he caught the subtleties and intriguing patterns of vernacular speech in the black Delta” (3).
Reuben Davis holds a unique place among Mississippi writers. Although Butcher Bird and Shim are his only major works, (both with themes of confrontation between different life styles), they are highly rated by the critics. His books are a great example of a passing way of life in Mississippi. Davis died in 1966.
A Review of Shim
by Ben Davis, SHS
Reuben Davis’ novel Shim depicts Southern life in the early 1900’s. The setting of the story is in the woods of Tallahatchie County. The theme of Shim is the confrontation between the old South and the newer generation of Southern people. The point of view is third person, and the narrator is fourteen-year-old Shim Govan. Other characters include Shim’s mother Miss Cherry, Shim’s father Captain, Shim’s brother Dave, Shim’s sister Fanchie, and the Negro sharecropper Henry.
Shim’s family lives on a plantation in the heart of the Mississippi’s wilderness. Henry, the Negro sharecropper, teaches Shim how to stay alive in the woods. Shim faces near death experiences with alligators, bears, wolves, and humans. The climax in the novel is when the sawmill people arrive in Shim’s part of the woods. Instead of bringing a better way of living, the sawmill people bring death. Young Shim witnesses the death of his friends Kiz, J. Ney, and Jeems Yarns
Shim shows his mixed feelings toward the sawmill people to the son of the sawmill owner, Jans Dobson. He faces the decision of whether to remain living life the way he knew how or to adopt the sawmill people’s newer ways of living life. With this decision comes death, heartbreak, and knowledge.
I really enjoyed the novel Shim. The book talks a lot about the problems people encounter living in the wilderness. However, this novel would have not have been as interesting for someone that dislikes the outdoors. A great portion of the book describes plants and wildlife. I think this novel will be more appealing to hunters or fishermen.
- Shim is available online
- Reuben Davis, Sylvia Plath, and Other American Writers: The Perils of Emotional Struggle by Bertram Wyatt-Brown
- Lloyd, James G. Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1981.
- “Reuben G. Davis.” Gale Literary Databases. 1994. 11 Dec. 2002.