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Southern Frontier Humor

Southern Frontier Humor: New Approaches

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Southern Frontier Humor
    Book Description:

    Since its inception in the early 1830s, southern frontier humor (also known as the humor of the Old Southwest) has had enduring appeal. The onset of the new millennium precipitated an impressive rejuvenation of scholarly interest.Beyond Southern Frontier Humor: Prospects and Possibilitiesrepresents the next step in this revival, providing a series of essays with fresh perspectives and contexts.

    First the book shows the importance of Henry Junius Nott, a writer virtually unknown and forgotten who mined many of the principal subjects, themes, tropes, and character types associated with southern frontier humor, followed by an essay addressing how this humor genre and its ideological impact helped to stimulate a national cultural revolution. Several essays focus on the genre's legacy to the post-Civil War era, exploring intersections between southern frontier humor and southern local color writers--Joel Chandler Harris, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Sherwood Bonner. Mark Twain's African American dialect piece "A True Story," though employing some of the conventions of southern frontier humor, is reexamined as a transitional text, showing his shift to broader concerns, particularly in race portraiture.Essays also examine the evolution of the trickster from the Jack Tales to Hooper's Simon Suggs to similar mountebanks in novels of John Kennedy Toole, Mark Childress, and Clyde Edgerton and transnational contexts, the latter exploring parallels between southern frontier humor and the Jamaican Anansi tales. Finally, the genre is situated contextually, using contemporary critical discourses, which are applied to G. W. Harris's Sut Lovingood and to various frontier hunting stories.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-938-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    Southern frontier humor, which emerged in the 1830s primarily in the lower South and the then Southwest, enjoyed popularity from its inception through the period of the Civil War, though its influence on later American writers and forms of popular culture would continue after that time and has been ongoing ever since. According to intellectual historian Michael O’Brien, the genre “was mostly sensitive to what was East and West, what followed rivers and penetrated forests. It was very interested, therefore, in the scenes of travel, in steamboats, taverns, hotels, strangers talking. Everything moved, and the world was made intelligible by...

    (pp. 18-41)

    When one thinks of the analogues and antecedents of antebellum southern humor, the usual candidates are: Ebenezer Cook’s comical satire,The Sot-weed Factor; or a Voyage to Maryland(1708), William Byrd II’s Dividing Line histories, Dr. Alexander Hamilton’s mid-eighteenth-century satire, “The History of the Tuesday Club,” Rudolph Raspe’sBaron Munchausen’s Narrative of His Marvelous Travels and Campaigns(1785), the comic eclogues of William Henry Timrod (the father of the Henry Timrod, often lauded as the poet laureate of the Confederacy), Mason Locke Weems’s “Awful History of Young Dred Drake” (1812), and segments of James Kirke Paulding’sLetters from the South...

  6. HYSTERICAL POWER Frontier Humor and Genres of Cultural Conquest
    (pp. 42-59)

    In this passage from the nashville series of crockett almanacs, Davy Crockett’s definition of the person who is not scorned by Kentuckians as a “flunk and a sneak” is less narrow than a reader familiar with the machismo of southwestern humor might expect. An inability to perform conventional manly activities such as hunting and fighting is forgiven so long as a man has the ability to “scream,” “grin,” or simply tell a good story. Crockett suggests that to be welcomed into frontier society one might either laugh, or tell the kind of story that could make others laugh. He democratically...

  7. “BAWN IN A BRIER-PATCH” AND FRONTIER BRED Joel Chandler Harris’s Debt to the Humor of the Old South
    (pp. 60-85)

    Joel chandler harris’s most well known character, Uncle Remus, has been and continues to be a critically polarizing figure in American literature, and the Uncle Remus collections have dominated scholarly attention to Harris’s work. While Alice Walker condemns Harris as a cultural thief and refers to the Uncle Remus character as “a creature,” other scholars like Ralph Ellison and James Weldon Johnson commend Harris for recognizing the aesthetic artistry of black folk tales. Yet Harris was also familiar with and indeed drew from another important antebellum literary tradition, southern frontier humor, praising in particular Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’sGeorgia Scenesand...

  8. FROM SWAMP DOCTOR TO CONJURE WOMAN Exploring “Science” and Race in Nineteenth-Century America
    (pp. 86-103)

    In his collection of dialect tales published inthe conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales, Charles Chesnutt challenges a wide range of social and scientific prescriptions of racial difference that pervaded the culture surrounding the Civil War. Working against the popular tradition of plantation fiction, Chesnutt’sConjure Talesdisrupts the traditional narrative of black inferiority and presents a counter-narrative steeped in conjure, signifying, and a healthy trickster tradition. To do so, Chesnutt’s work denaturalizes the unexamined scientific theories of race that girded pro-slavery arguments during the Civil War, justifying the severe racism of post-Reconstruction America. Chesnutt, though revolutionary in his...

    (pp. 104-130)

    This essay betrays traditional expectations for south-western humor in two signal ways: It focuses on four stories written, not in the antebellum period, but in the postbellum one—all authored by a woman. My purpose is not to argue with the useful and largely accurate characterizations of the genre that have held sway, or with the trajectory of the form’s prevalence.¹ Rather, my goal is to suggest that the eclectic writer Sherwood Bonner (Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell [1849–83]) is one of the earliest postbellum writers directly indebted to the genre, not in a diluted, “feminized” form, but in a...

  10. “I WA’ N’T BAWN IN DE MASH TO BE FOOL’ BY TRASH!” Mark Twain’s “A True Story” and the Culmination of Southern Frontier Humor
    (pp. 131-153)

    Mark twain’s stories have been anthologized frequently in collections of Southwest humor. Cohen and Dillingham included several sketches by Twain in the 1964 and 1975 editions of their foundational anthology,Humor of the Old Southwest. In their 1994 revision, they removed Twain, arguing that “Mark Twain is now recognized as the culmination of Old Southwestern Humor,” and that his inclusion was no longer necessary to prove that point (ix). InSouthern Frontier Humor: An Anthology(2010), M. Thomas Inge and Ed Piacentino include Mark Twain as “the only major American author to contribute to and emerge from the movement” and...

  11. MORPHING ONCE AGAIN From Jack to Simon Suggs to Aunt Lucille
    (pp. 154-170)

    Tricksters resemble shit in that they elicit hilarity or gravity, sometimes both. They are both ubiquitous.¹ Neither is welcome in polite company. One indication that the characters Jack, found in oral tales developed in the hills and hollows of Appalachia, Johnson Jones Hooper’s Simon Suggs, and Mark Childress’s Aunt Lucille belong to a trickster tradition is that the same generalizations can be made about them. The Jack tales that developed in America over the last several centuries and the wily and usually reprehensible “heroes” of the early nineteenth century are often presumed to be time-bound. In fact, all three characters...

  12. ANANCY’S WEB/SUT’S STRATAGEMS Humor, Race, and Trickery in Jamaica and the Old Southwest
    (pp. 171-192)

    Over the centuries, trickster tales and stories have been generated in most parts of the world, and many of them found their way to North America via the slave ships that supported the plantation economy of the New World but also disseminated the people of the African diaspora. One of the chief exports from Western Africa was the Ashanti people, whose folklore centered on the spider trickster Anansi/Anancy. As the opposite of Nyame, the creator and namer, Anancy represents humor, chaos, and ambiguity, all of which of course have an interrelationship with creativity. His disorienting yet invigorating activities are a...

  13. POSTMODERN HUMOR ANTE LITTERAM Self-Reflexivity, Incongruity, and Dialect in George Washington Harris’s Yarns Spun
    (pp. 193-209)

    When milton rickels wrote, in his 1959 essay on George Washington Harris’s imagery, that among the humorists of the Old Southwest, “Harris was among the least interesting in the variety of his plots, but at the same time the most intense in his vision, and the most self-conscious in his use of language” (173), he did not mean “self-conscious” in the postmodern sense. Rickels likely could not have imagined the self-reflexive extremes to which American writers of fiction such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut—or a southern heir to Harris such as Barry Hannah—would push language...

  14. THE REAL BIG KILL Authenticity, Ecology, and Narrative in Southern Frontier Humor
    (pp. 210-224)

    Once of the richest traditions within the genre of old Southwest humor is the embellished story of the hunt, emphasizing the resourcefulness, tenacity, and self-reliance of the nineteenth-century American frontiersman. In recounting these stories, southern humorists, taken as a group, depict a veritable massacre of deer, bears, bison, raccoons, wolves, mountain lions, and a plethora of game bird and fish species, many of which faced extinction by the turn of the twentieth century. That the widespread slaughter of animals—what I term the “big kill” in this essay—was an object of humor for nineteenth-century American readers and writers points...

    (pp. 225-228)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 229-237)