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Berendt's Attitude in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
"The biggest challenge . . . is finding characters worth writing about, " says John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. "I found a mother lode in Savannah" (Anderson 18). Berendt conveys certain attitudes towards different characters and events. He takes the same explorative and open approach to each person and situation, but his final attitudes towards them are quite varied. He behaves very differently around Jim Williams than around Joe Odom and his crew, and differently from all of them when around Lee Adler. His reactions to the news of Williams's arrest and trials vary greatly from his reaction to the Lady Chablis' singular exit from "her" job.
Berendt is more reserved and plays the part of the confidant when he is in the company of Williams. From their first meeting, Williams seems ready to open up to Berendt, and the reader gets the feeling that Berendt welcomes the role. He portrays Williams as an arrogant but decent enough type who is somewhat lonely and in need of a feeling of power. Williams's affinity for Nazi relics and weapons is one sign of his power fetish, as is his superior view of himself. Berendt takes all of this in stride and uses it to set up the foundation for Williamsí actions during the trials later in the book. During their meeting, Williams tells him many stories about Savannah and the people who live there.
Berendt's reaction to Joe Odom and his followers and friends is more relaxed. Joe gives Berendt the three basic rules of Savannah, which include "Always stick around for one more drink" and "Never go south of Gaston Street" (Berendt 49). These rules demonstrate the exclusiveness of Savannah and its willingness to let loose and have some fun with life. The third rule also shows one of the traditions of Savannah: "Observe the high holidays - Saint Patrick's Day and the day of the Georgia-Florida football game" (49). Nearly everyone in Savannah gets involved in both these holidays, adding their own twists to both. For Saint Patrick's Day, the drinking begins at 6 a.m. The women in South Georgia don't start wearing panty hose till after the big game. While Berendt doesn't let Joe's advice stop him from exploring south of Gaston Street, he welcomes the guidance all the same.
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When Berendt meets Lee Adler, he is more reserved, having heard several negative opinions on the man already. Adler comes off as being pompous and overbearing while he takes the credit for the work of others. Like Williams, he is working on restoring Savannah, but unlike Williams, Adler makes sure everyone knows about it. He visits with the President and Prince Charles to discuss how to improve the living conditions of slums and housing projects. Only one person ever expresses any leniency towards Adler, and he is never identified. He points out that despite Adler's being a prominent citizen, one of the most exclusive clubs in Savannah has never asked Adler to join, probably due to Adler's being Jewish.
Berendt's reactions to different events also vary. When he hears of the arrest of Jim Williams he seems to have a difficult time believing it and asks Chablis if she is serious. During the following trials and imprisonment and other unpleasantness which Williams is put through, Berendt remains loyal to him. While Berendt's initial reaction is one of shock, he later is surprised at Williams's disinterested attitude and complete willingness to leave the case up to his lawyers while he leaves the details and curses to the voodoo woman he hires.
A completely different reaction is brought out by the Lady Chablis's attention-grabbing exit from her job after she feels her boss has cheated her out of her money. She leaves The Pickup with a whole trail of drag queens following her, their dresses like a "cascade of glitter and fluff." (123). Chablis makes a huge production out of her leaving and makes sure everyone knows that "The Doll" is getting out of there. Berendt writes of her leaving in such a manner that the reader feels that he is impressed and mildly amused by her antics. He uses words like "subjects," "procession," and "imperial" to convey the full of effect of Chablis's extensive power over people.
John Berendt expresses a wide range of attitudes in his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He reacts differently to each character and event despite approaching each with the same open-mindedness. His behavior around Jim Williams differs greatly from his behavior around Joe Odom or Lee Adler. Williams's arrest and trials affect Berendt in a different way than Chablis's quitting of her job.