Other Americans: the racialized and anachronized Appalachian mountaineer at the turn of the twentieth century

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Sara Taylor Boissonneau (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Maria Carla Sánchez

Abstract: The central claim of this project is that literary and historical texts from the turn of the last century rhetorically contained the Southern Appalachian mountaineer through racializing that figure into less-than-normative whiteness and anachronizing that figure into incompatibility with the modern era. Other scholars have traced the origins of Appalachian stereotypes to this foundational period, and some have also pointed to the capitalistic utility of Appalachian stereotypes given the contemporaneous and rather sudden profitability of Appalachian land and labor via the coal and timber industries. I expand upon previous scholarship to examine this phenomenon in terms of exploitative trends in American history and literature. In particular, I draw a parallel between the rhetoric surrounding the supposedly “Vanishing Indian” in the mid-nineteenth century and that of the supposedly doomed mountaineer, hopelessly backward and incapable of modernizing, in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The literary texts that established the hillbilly stereotype—one that has far surpassed the texts themselves in ubiquity—as well as that stereotype’s wide acceptance in historical paratexts of the period demonstrate that mountaineers’ rhetorical exploitation had more than a casual relationship with their material exploitation. In this vein, chapters one through three consider Mary N. Murfree’s In the Tennessee Mountains (1884), Emma Bell Miles’s The Spirit of the Mountains (1905), and John Fox, Jr’s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908), in the context of an emerging racial hierarchy of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which along with denigrating those deemed non-white also privileged and disenfranchised particular kinds of whiteness. Chapter four examines more recent Appalachian literature by Lee Smith and Silas House. Though their novels under consideration here, Fair and Tender Ladies (1988) and A Parchment of Leaves (2001), respectively, were published in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, they are set at the turn of the twentieth century, the same period as the earlier literary texts examined in this project. Having at their disposal the effects of land usurpation, Smith and House are able to view the figure of the Southern Appalachian mountaineer over the longue durée, complicating and amending that figure’s earlier characterization. Thus, these authors’ portrayals have something to tell us about the enduring marginalization of the mountaineer and the persistence of historical disenfranchisement. Moreover, while the literature of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, I argue, was complicit with the ruinous re-appropriation of mountain lands by greedy industrial interests, the literature of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries may serve as a tool in rehabilitating the image of the Appalachian mountaineer. Finally, in chapter five, the conclusion, I consider modern popular conceptions of Appalachian people, some of which demonstrate that the hillbilly stereotype and its relationship to economic disenfranchisement persist to this day.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Appalachian literature, Emma Bell Miles, John Fox Jr., Lee Smith, Mary Murfree, Silas House
Appalachians (People) in literature
Stereotypes (Social psychology) $z United States
Appalachian Region, Southern $x Social conditions

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