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The counter-pastoral novel zeroes in on the social change by portraying characters predominantly within plots of economic struggle. In some even more estranged counter-narratives, writers' visions of multiple are produced from surreal distortions of traditional place and gentrified characters. The Gothic horrors of the southern-born Poe, the outrageous exaggerations of the antebellum southern humorists, the grotesque bodies of post-Renascence writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Lewis Nordan, and Randall Kenan take center stage in these assertions of myriad souths against the "chosen" South of one literary tradition.

Mark Twain's Huck Finn is southern literature's poster boy for counter-pastoral. He has no "truck" with what has been called "the party of the past. His backward glance is taken through the eyes of a child who exists uneasily on the margins of a supposedly idyllic village. His ambivalence is traced satirically in his relations on the one hand with Jim , a slave, and on the other with several varieties of white communities.

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By the time that Twain wrote Pudd'nhead Wilson in , even Huck's mild pastoral meditations, dreamy reflections made as he floats briefly out of time with Jim on the river, have been banished. Pudd'nhead Wilson confronts the absurd final consequences of white southern racist order. Several other southern writers of the s and 90s also wrote against the mythologizing currents of much " New South " writing in counter-pastoral fiction that utilized many of the staples noted above of local color. Charles Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman , with its intricate frame narration, allows the black former slave narrator Uncle Julius to undercut all the nostalgic functions that the faithful retainer type performed for pastoral writers such as Joel Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page.

Uncle Julius, in rich vernacular dialect, critiques the white racist and class assumptions of the outside frame narrator, John. His conjure stories are set before the Civil War, but Chesnutt looks at the slavery era not to idealize the past, but to offer analogies between the brutal governance of slaveholders and the racist political assumptions and policies of the present, North and South.

George Washington Cable in The Grandissimes more directly attacked racial prejudice through mulatto characters negotiating the complex color lines of New Orleans, a metropolitan region that offers an extreme version of caste, class, and race politics. Kate Chopin and Grace King also depicted mulatto characters who transgress the illogically racialized social structures of New Orleans, as did the African American writer Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

DuBois in Souls of Black Folk , as well as Chesnutt in The Marrow of Tradition especially , made the South a site synonymous with racial violence and injustice. A masterwork of twentieth century African American fiction, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God , can also be seen as counter-pastoral, especially in its construction of a very different mythology out of the oral folk culture of African Americans.

The southwest as a regional literary imaginary has its boundary wherever the southern backwoods begins to meet the outer edges of civilization. The tales of this genre belong not to what we now know geographically as the Southwest e. Arizona and New Mexico but to the southern frontier , which might be western Mississippi, or any sparsely settled section of Alabama, Tennessee, or middle Georgia, wherever regulated society had not yet taken root.

When Johnson Jones Hooper 's con man protagonist Captain Simon Suggs comments in Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs that it is "good to be shifty in a new country," he identifies the imaginative landscape of southwestern humor. It is the "new" place that gives the lie to the ideal of the "Old" South as place distinguished by tradition, history, manners, and law.

African American History

The nineteenth century humorists were usually men of education and urbanity writing for popular men's magazines. In their unruly representations, a man can lose his nose in a fight in Augustus Baldwin Longstreet 's Georgia Scenes ; transplanted Virginians trying to "lord" over others in frontier communities are routinely victimized by sharper drifters with no pedigrees in Joseph Glover Baldwin 's Flush Times in Alabama and Missisippi ; a phony preacher can be conned by an even phonier convert in Hooper's Captain Simon Suggs ; a lowlife of the first order named Sut Lovingood can victimize innocent bystanders simply because he is feeling out of sorts in George Washington Harris 's Sut Lovingood Yarns The southwestern humor tales satirize many elements of antebellum plantation fiction through tricksters who in their disdain for the classic virtues hold up an ironic, inverted mirror to slave-holding society and its hypocrisies.

The stories contain exaggeration of both speech and incident, while their protagonists both critique and subvert the dominant power structure. At their most violent or absurd, the tales of the genre offer versions of anarchy that seem especially to target preoccupations with social class.

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The poor white challenges any class claim to superiority. In the world of hunting, horse-swap, yarn-spinning, and woman-bashing that marks the genre, the condescension of the gentleman or dandy is no match for the resentment and the amorality of an unaccommodated breed of backwoodsman. Although southwestern humor tales have long been considered a male genre, in part because of their popularity in men's sporting journals , southern women also took to this form, generally somewhat later and within the generic conventions of local color.

Idora McClellan Plowman Moore , recently given new attention by scholar Kathryn McKee, wrote comic sketches for southern newspapers — that clearly belong to the southwestern humor tradition, especially in her use of poor white storyteller Betsy Hamilton. When the South was identified by President Franklin Roosevelt as America's " number one " economic problem in the s, southern writers were already responding to the realities of the rural and industrial poor with fiction that has often been included in categories of " Social Realism ," "The Protest Novel," or the "Proletarian Novel.

A genre of "problem" literature incorporates these factors into its dramatic treatment of poverty and injustice. Writers in this group stake out resistance specifically to agrarian and pastoral literatures that gloss over racism and the suffering of sharecropping farm families in their attempt to associate the good life with idealizations of the past or life lived close to nature.

Stribling was an early pioneer of southern problem literature who belonged to what was known as the " revolt from the village " school associated more with northern and midwestern writers such as Sinclair Lewis. Erskine Caldwell was probably the most visible but also most controversial of the "problem" novelists in the s, scoring with sensationalist, grotesque portrayals of poor whites in fiction such as Tobacco Road but also with a more realistic, sympathetic photo-documentary text with Margaret Bourke-White , You Have Seen Their Faces Very different from the outside observer Caldwell was Harry Kroll , who in a non-fiction account, I Was a Share-Cropper , and in novels such as The Cabin in the Cotton approached poor white tenant farming from his own experience.

Richard Wright in Uncle Tom's Children and Black Boy also experienced firsthand some of what he shows in this collection of short stories: the doubly brutalizing existence that poor blacks endured in the rural South. Probably the earliest novel to focus on poor whites was Edith Summers Kelley 's Weeds , a naturalistic study of Kentucky tobacco farming.


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Her position points to an interesting aspect of southern problem literature, the relatively high number of women writers who turned to its resistance format. Margaret Mitchell 's Gone With the Wind was a brilliant version of the modern historical romance form that many women, nation-wide, were successfully mastering. Still, many southern women writers moved away from this traditional women's market. Lillian Smith in her novel Strange Fruit and her eloquent, confessional autobiography Killers of the Dream took a courageous stand against segregation.

The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature

Resistance autobiographies like Smith's that concentrate on the "problem" of class and race discrimination have been a special province of southern women writers. They represent experiences that cross these divisions, from Katherine Du Pre Lumpkin 's The Making of a Southerner , charting a white woman's growing distance from an upper-class family's paternalistic racism, to Anne Moody 's Coming of Age in Mississippi , describing a black girl's adolescence in an impoverished rural household, and from Ellen Douglas's Truth: Four Stories I am Finally Old Enough to Tell , concerning her middle class family's racist past, to Linda Flowers 's firsthand account, in Throwed Away , of growing up in a sharecropping family.

Southern women writers were also frontrunners in treating the urban, industrial South in the s. Harriette Arnow 's The Dollmaker brought an Appalachian woman writer's viewpoint to the issue of the effects of industrialization on rural families through her story of a displaced Kentucky family during World War II. In another southern woman writer, Harper Lee , published what is probably the modern South's most popular novel of social protest, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: An Anthology

Contemporary writers such as Harry Crews in A Childhood: The Biography of a Place and Dorothy Allison in Bastard Out of Carolina deal with the experience of poor whites in graphic ways that in some respects makes them southern problem naturalists, but in others allies them with the genre of the Southern Grotesque. Often the terms Gothic and Grotesque are interchanged when applied to the South the only place to which both rubrics have been consistently applied as literary denominators.

Writers of southern Gothic or Grotesque combine comic or obscene exaggeration with sometimes gratuitous violence, often within representations of physical deformity or sexual deviance. The Grotesque genre in southern literature begins with southern-born Edgar Allan Poe , whose radical experience of repression and alienation in his case, alienation from the upperclass Richmond society of his adoptive father is reflected in the nightmare landscapes that appear in his fiction.

His gothic works of horror appeared around the same time as southwestern humor writing, and as different as the two genres might seem, they share elements of distortion and displacement, gratuitous violence, and outrageous hostility. Possibly these similar traits represent a kindred response to the stultifying effects of traditional antebellum plantation society, which in a resistance view functioned only through blindness to the horrors inherent in slavery and through pretentious rituals of honor and obedience. His characters' obsession with control explodes into bizarre excesses and disfiguring disease.

Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams apply different kinds of gothic effects in some of their works, often as they address alienation and disorder in modern southern settings. Yet the most interesting, and most radical inheritors of the Grotesque are women writers of the later modernist era, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor , who developed this sensibility into very different strands. Their deformed, freakish, psychotic, or imbecilic female characters are inversions of the pure white southern woman, icon of the well-ordered universe of southern tradition.

The dramas of Tennessee Williams and the stories of Truman Capote and Peter Taylor reflect this iconography of estrangement as well in physical, often sexual grotesqueries. If the South seems especially hospitable to such types, some scholars and writers speculate, it may be because its social codes have allowed so few avenues for the expression of disagreement or even confusion about the controlling norms.

Flannery O'Connor's affinity for the grotesque is unique because her explanations and usages are tied to her firm sense of spiritual realities that southerners, she says, have always been more ready to acknowledge than other Americans. Her imagined South is defined as that "Christ-haunted landscape" in which characters can be forgiven anything except spiritual complacency.

Epiphanies occur for O'Connor's ideal modern readers when they experience a sense of the uncanny translated for O'Connor into spiritual grace through the grotesque mode's combining of strange, often violent "discrepancies" or oppositions in plot, character or imagery. Following O'Connor, and deeply indebted to her, are several contemporary southern writers who are interested in her use of the Grotesque as a way to critique a stultifying, spiritually arid modern landscape. Cormac McCarthy , Harry Crews, Barry Hannah , Tim McLaurin , Lewis Nordan especially in Wolf Whistle and Larry Brown apply the principles of the Grotesque in works of fiction that often are considered under a separate rubric, that of " Grit Lit " not to be confused with the use of the term "Gritlit" for all of southern literature.

Like O'Connor's grotesque comedies, some of these writers' works can be violently comic, while others are more likely to shock or repulse readers through raw portrayals of life at its grimmest. Grit Lit can chart the disintegration of characters bereft of dignity or hope but it can also call forth sympathy for forgotten lives and wasted promise. She also lectures locally and nationally on the culture of the Old South. In winter , Southern Spaces updated this publication as part of the journal's redesign and migration to Drupal 7. Updates include a full collection of new images and text links, as well as revised recommended resources and related publications.

For access to the original layout, paste this publication's url into the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine and view any version of the piece that predates January Andrews, William L. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, Beebee, Thomas O. Brinkmeyer, Robert H. Athens: University of Georgia Press, Fetterley, Judith, and Marjorie Pryse. Flora, Joseph P. MacKethan, eds.

The Companion to Southern Literature. Gray, Richard. Guinn, Matthew.

Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, Heilman, Robert. Hobson, Fred, and Barbara Ladd, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U. New York: Oxford University Press, Holman, C.

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