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The World Is Our Home

The World Is Our Home: Society and Culture in Contemporary Southern Writing

Jeffrey J. Folks
Nancy Summers Folks
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The World Is Our Home
    Book Description:

    Since the early 1970s southern fiction has been increasingly attentive to social issues, including the continuing struggles for racial justice and gender equality, the loss of a sense of social community, and the decline of a coherent regional identity. The essays inThe World Is Our Homefocus on writers who have explicitly addressed social and cultural issues in their fiction and drama, including Dorothy Allison, Horton Foote, Ernest J. Gaines, Jill McCorkle, Walker Percy, Lee Smith, William Styron, Alice Walker, and many others. The contributors provide valuable insights into the transformation of southern culture over the past thirty years and probe the social and cultural divisions that persist. The collection makes an important case for the centrality of social critique in contemporary southern fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6155-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. The World Is Our Home: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)
    Jeffrey J. Folks and Nancy Summers Folks

    As James Agee wrote at the beginning of his now classic study of southern sharecropping,Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: “The world is our home. It is also the home of many, many other children, some of whom live in far-away lands. They are our world brothers and sisters” (xviii, quoted fromAround the World With the Childrenby FB. Carpenter). In his writing, Agee was greatly concerned with the experiences of southerners from social groups distinct from his own. His artistic practice also insisted on reading literature within the discernible world of historical realities that shaped, and often...

  4. Competing Histories: William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sherley Ann Williams’s Dessa Rose
    (pp. 12-28)
    Susan Goodman

    A month after the publication ofThe Confessions of Nat Turner(1967), William Styron received an honorary degree from Wilberforce University, an Ohio institution named for the British abolitionist. Addressing the mostly black audience, he hoped that an increased awareness of history, particularly of slavery, “would allow people of both races to come to terms with the often inexplicable turmoil of the present.” His speech prompted a round of enthusiastic applause before his listeners, perhaps thinking of relatives in Vietnam, rose to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “I felt gratitude at their acceptance of me,” he recalled, “and,...

  5. New Narratives of Southern Manhood: Race, Masculinity, and Closure in Ernest Gaines’s Fiction
    (pp. 29-52)
    Suzanne W. Jones

    InA Rage for Order: Black/White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation, Joel Williamson explores the conjuncture of race, manhood, and violence peculiar to the American South. He argues that for southern white men the traditional Victorian masculine role of provider and protector was directly linked with violence because of plantation society’s “necessity of controlling a potentially explosive black population.” As early as the seventeenth century, a patrol system, made up of masters and overseers, enforced the laws of slavery. By the nineteenth century, the duty of patrolling was extended to all white men, who had authority over all...

  6. The Snake and the Rosary: Violence and the Culture of Piety in Sheila Bosworth’s Slow Poison
    (pp. 53-72)
    Gary M. Ciuba

    When Sheila Bosworth discussed religion with Walker Percy, her fellow novelist from Covington, Louisiana, they frequently argued about being Roman Catholic.¹ Bosworth admired Percy for letting his faith vitalize his fiction without becoming didactic, but she disagreed with him about their experiences in the church. “His church and my church were two different churches,” Bosworth observes. “… He didn’t understand what it was like to be a female child in the Catholic church in the 1950s” (“Interview” 163, 150–51). She would sometimes summarize the difference between her own and Percy’s church by joking that hers had mean nuns (Tolson...

  7. “Because God’s Eye Never Closes”: The Problem of Evil in Jayne Anne Phillips’s Shelter
    (pp. 73-92)
    James Grove

    Contemporary American writers whothinkabout evil in their art make an ethical decision that often places them in an uneasy relationship with their audience. Although evil has been ubiquitous in the murderous twentieth century, Americans have had difficulty recognizing, defining, and facing evil, except in superficial and ephemeral ways. InThe Death of Satan, Andrew Delbanco writes that with the breakdown of traditional notions of religious certainty and transcendence, Americans have persistently discarded the potent words, images, symbols, and myths once used—for better and worse—to objectify evil. In turn, Americans have generally not found resonant replacements for...

  8. Gender and Justice: Alice Walker and the Sexual Politics of Civil Rights
    (pp. 93-106)
    Keith Byerman

    In her novelMeridian(1976), Alice Walker depicts a northern white civil rights worker very concerned with her impulse to see southern blacks as aesthetic objects: “To Lynne, the black people of the South were Art.… ‘I will pay for this,’ she often warned herself. ‘It is probably a sin to think of a people as Art.’ And yet, she would stand perfectly still and the sight of a fat black woman singing to herself in a tattered yellow dress, her voice rich and full of yearning, was always—God forgive her, black folks forgive her—the same weepy miracle...

  9. “Trouble” in Muskhogean Counry: The Social History of a Southern Community in the Fiction of Raymond Andrews
    (pp. 107-116)
    Jeffrey J. Folks

    Born of sharecropper parents in east central Georgia near the small town of Appalachee, Raymond Andrews (1934–1991) experienced the agrarian poverty and intensely segregated society of the rural South during the 1940s and 1950s. Although the biographical details of Andrews’s life roughly parallel those of several of his male and female protagonists, the larger-than-life characters of his fiction are clearly imaginative creations, not merely the recording of figures from the author’s experience. The fictional settings, knowledge of farm and small-town life, realistic depiction of work and domestic routine, and, most important, the intricate sense of racial relations in the...

  10. “The Politics of They”: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina as Critique of Class, Gender, and Sexual Ideologies
    (pp. 117-141)
    Moira P. Baker

    “We were thetheyeveryone talks about—the ungrateful poor,” asserts Dorothy Allison, referring to her childhood experiences in Greenville, South Carolina (“Question” 13). Her work, she writes, represents “the condensed and reinvented experience of a cross-eyed working-class lesbian … who has made the decision to live … on the page … for me and mine” (“Preface” 12). In the stories collected inTrashand in her stunning first novel,Bastard Out of Carolina, she offers an uncompromising vision of the ugliness and injustice of poverty. Incandescent with grief, rage, and pride, her fiction also affirms the complex subjectivity of...

  11. Transcendence in the House of the Dead: The Subversion Gaze of A Lesson Before Dying
    (pp. 142-162)
    John Lowe

    A Lesson Before Dying, a masterpiece many readers have yet to discover, concerns several stories, but all of them revolve around a black man awaiting his execution on death row, a burning metaphor of southern history that remains relevant today; unfortunately, this “scene of inscription” that inspired Gaines’s narrative also speaks for America as a whole, in a postmodern age when more black men are in prison than in college. As a prosperous nation edges closer to an unthinkable apartheid, we would do well to ponder the significance of this narrative, its semiotics, and its relevance to the world we...

  12. Walker Percy’s Lancelot Lamar: Defending the Hollow Core
    (pp. 163-175)
    Julius Raper

    One of the faults from the great catalogue of complaints Lancelot Lamar in Walker Percy’s 1977 novelLancelotlodges against modern culture in general and the contemporary South in particular is that the age lacks a sense of evil as a “living malignant force” for which “no explanation” exists (52). In so doing, Lancelot, wittingly or not, places himself in distinguished southern company, for an insistence on the way evil or sin marks southern identity threads through influential statements about the region fromI’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners¹ to The Burden of...

  13. Regeneration Through Nonviolence: Frederick Barthelme and the west
    (pp. 176-185)
    Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr.

    For all the talk about a southern sense of place, a large number of contemporary southern writers have lately been roaming far afield from the old homeplace. Significantly and somewhat surprisingly, in lighting out to new territories, many of these writers have not been heading, as one might expect, to the North (where southerners have for generations looked longingly for escape), but instead have been heading west, a geographical turning that marks an important shift in the history of southern literature. In contrast to the enormous appeal of the West in the American (that is, nonsouthern) literary imagination, southern writers...

  14. Making Peace with the (M)other
    (pp. 186-200)
    Barbara Bennett

    Southern fiction is rife with family conflicts, breaks, and reconciliations, and much attention has been given to specific types of relationships—father-son, mother-son, father-daughter, and mother-daughter. In fiction written before the 1970s, however, the mother-daughter connection is much less pronounced, perhaps because the coming of age of a young woman is generally marked by psychological changes rather than the concrete acts—a sexual experience or a hunting triumph—that more often mark the adult initiation of a young man, as in the fiction written by William Faulkner or Thomas Wolfe. Further, when a young woman is involved in the main...

  15. Toward Healing the Split: Lee Smith’s Fancy Strut and Black Mountain Breakdown
    (pp. 201-219)
    Linda J. Byrd

    In virtually all of Lee Smith’s novels, a female protagonist struggles in search of her identity. In the canon of her novels, Smith treats female experience progressively, revealing in her early novels the limited possibilities for women and employing in her later novels ennobling images of women. Just as Nancy Friday, in her psychological studyMy Mother/My Self, poses a choice for women between sexuality and motherhood, Smith, in her early novels, disallows the coexistence of sexuality and motherhood as qualities within one character. Monica Neighbors ofFancy Strut(1973) and Crystal Spangler ofBlack Mountain Breakdown(1980), like the...

  16. Stories Told by Their Survivors (and Other Sins of Memory): Survivor Guilt in Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster
    (pp. 220-231)
    Linda Watts

    The year 1997 brought Kaye Gibbons, whose work had already earned numerous prizes and awards, at least two more public acknowledgments of her fiction. Both were destined to widen her readership and recognition. In November, Oprah Winfrey selected two Gibbons novels,Ellen FosterandA Virtuous Woman, as featured titles in her book club, and in December, a television movie based onEllen Fosteraired as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series. Amid this fanfare, Kaye Gibbons persisted in a manner so measured in voice and reverent to language as to appear self-effacing. There is something quiet, private,...

  17. James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Novels
    (pp. 232-243)
    Frank W. Shelton

    Fred Hobson has observed that a number of recent southern writers “immerse their characters in a world of popular or mass culture, and their characters’ perception of place, family, community, and even myth are greatly conditioned by popular culture, television, movies, rock music, and so forth” (10). His emphasis is on writers, one of the most evident being Bobbie Ann Mason, who include references to popular culture in their works. A significant and heretofore unnoted phenomenon, however, is the use by numerous mainstream contemporary southern novelists of a particular narrative genre in popular culture—the detective or mystery story. Several...

  18. The Physical Hunger for the Spiritual: Southern Religious Experience in the Plays of Horton Foote
    (pp. 244-258)
    Gerald C. Wood

    Unlike most southern writers, Horton Foote has been successful in more than one medium. Originally an actor, Foote first wrote plays in the late 1930s. Inspired by the direction of Mary Hunter and the enthusiastic support of Agnes DeMille, his off-Broadway work received positive reviews. Quickly shifting his allegiance from acting to playwrighting, Foote refined his skills and style during the 1940s, including a five-year sabbatical in Washington, D.C., at the end of that decade. By the beginning of the 1950s he returned to New York to write for both live television and theater. In the mid-1950s, with the release...

  19. Richard Ford: The Postmodern Exile and the Vanishing South
    (pp. 259-272)
    Joanna Price

    Richard Ford has been described as “possibl[y] America’s most peripatetic fiction writer” (Weber 50, qtd. in Hobson 42). Ford was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, but early in his childhood he became familiar with an itinerant life. After his father had a heart attack when Ford was eight years old, the young Ford “was shuttled between Jackson and Little Rock, Arkansas,” where his grandfather lived (Lee 226). Ford left Mississippi when he was eighteen to attend Michigan State University. Since then, he has spent his time living and writing in various states (Lee 227), returning temporarily to live in the Mississippi...

  20. Contributors
    (pp. 273-274)
  21. Index
    (pp. 275-282)