Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Summary & Study Guide

John Berendt
This Study Guide consists of approximately 52 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
This section contains 540 words
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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Summary & Study Guide Description

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

This suspenseful story about a 1981 murder trial in Savannah, Georgia, was written in 1994. While based on true events and characters, and therefore not a novel by true definition, the book is full of descriptive narration and dynamic, strongly identifiable figures. The author, John Berendt, draws a vivid picture of Savannah's residents while creating a book that revolves around the themes of money, isolation, illusion, and good versus evil.

The book begins by explaining how the narrator came to simultaneously live in Savannah and New York. He describes his childhood fascination with Savannah, and his preconceived idealistic view of the city. Once he visits Savannah, he decides to rent an apartment and live there most of the year. He begins to adjust to Savannah and describes various eccentric characters in vivid detail. Among these descriptions includes Joe Odom, a swindling financially unstable musician, who works his way out of sticky situations using his charm and wit. Lee Adler, a confident, is the self-declared savior of Savannah society. Lady Chablis is an outspoken drag queen, who receives routine shots of estrogen. There's also Luther Driggers, a disturbed man, who possesses enough poison to kill the entire city, and Emma Kelly, a piano player and singer known throughout the state of Georgia. Berendt paints a vivid picture of Savannah's society by elaborating on characters' individual traits and peculiarities.

The tone and plot of the story change dramatically when Jim Williams, a wealthy, clean-cut, seemingly law-abiding citizen, is charged with the murder of Danny Hansford in Mercer House, Jim Williams' home. However, in true Southern Gothic fashion, Berendt shows that below the surface, Williams is a prideful, mystifying subject with hidden homosexual tendencies. Danny Hansford is his much younger assistant and lover and has a history of violent and destructive behavior. Though the evidence in the case is inconclusive, Williams has an extreme faith in his ability to use his acquired wealth, power and prominence to extract himself out of any situation. Williams represents the authority and destructive perceptions that self-righteous attitudes can bring, while Danny Hansford represents a less powerful, poorer population that others see as worthless and disposable.

While one is never sure whether Jim Williams is guilty or innocent, plenty of informative speculations are provided. The story consists of four separate murder trials. The first two are overturned, and the third is declared a mistrial. Williams is convicted of his innocence at the fourth trial after eight years of attorneys, jail cells, curious glances and abounding rumors. Throughout the entire eight years, Williams remains not only calm and collected, but strangely certain that in the end, as he says, "everything will be just fine." He has a great deal of confidence in his own wealth and status, though he recruits the powers of a root doctor and a strange psychological mind game to wield his power over those involved in his case.

While this story recounts the events surrounding Williams' trial, it also tells of a community that is dedicated to keeping up appearances. Savannahian residents are uncomfortable with change and attempt to avoid it at all costs. While this can lead to unfavorable situations, characters tend to thrive and grow in the isolated community of Savannah.

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This section contains 540 words
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