The Old South in American Literature

Myth-Making and Nostalgia


Examination Thesis, 2015
59 Pages, Grade: 3,0

Excerpt

Contents

Introduction

I. Nostalgia for the Old South

II. The Old Southern Myth

III. The Search for Identity

III.1 Southern Literary Identity
III.1.1 Plantation Fiction
III. 1.2 Apologists' notions

IV. The Interplay of Fiction and History
IV. 1 Myth-making in Gone with the Wind & Uncle Tom's Cabin
IV. 2 Gender in Gone with the Wind
IV. 3 Race in Uncle Tom's Cabin & Gone with the Wind

V. The New South
V. 1 William Faulkner

VI. The Myth prevails
VI.1 The Old South in Pop-culture: Hart of Dixie

Conclusion 53 -

Introduction

Driving through the Southern states, which are commonly known to be magical and vested with a certain charm, one encounters numerous symbols that resemble the Confederacy - among other reminders of old Southern traditions. History is being kept alive, for which especially the Civil War greatly accounts. Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi even referred to the war as the introduction of a new era in the South: “In the South, the war is what A.D. is elsewhere: they date from it” (Anderson 118).

Particularly remarkable is the mystical energy that has been applied to the way of antebellum plantation life by literature and film, plus, in recent times - by TV series1. This element is the one prevailing until today, it finds its roots in a time in which the Civil War was not even given thought yet. It contains the image of sunny afternoons beneath oak trees, having a cup of tea in best company, conversing while feeling relaxed and unique. An elite society. Remarkably, those characters never seem to be doing much of anything but this, enjoying themselves and simultaneously not realizing they inherit what the character of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind calls “arrogance”.

Since a man inside of this perfectly constructed picture cannot be suited to full retirement, he is given characteristics deriving from a Middle-Aged European literary figure: the knight. The knight, among other personified roles in the works of Southern literature, is a result of a search for identity, in a time by which the settlement had become permanent in the Southern states already.

The important missing thing, due to the somewhat unfinished status of the American society as a whole, was the establishment of set rules, traditions - and not to mention a national identity. The way a Southern identity was constructed by literature was influenced not only by the Civil War but by numerous events leading up to it. Challenges to the establishment of an identity that was desired to be stable were simply lining up ahead.

Immediately coming to mind is the publication of “Uncle Tom's Cabin” by Harriett Beecher Stowe in 1852. Stowe, a northern abolitionist, highly criticized the Southern way of life or better yet, she criticized the sacrifice that had to be made in order to keep that lifestyle going.

The slavocracy, which it is sometimes referred to - meaning the Confederacy - depended not only on its institution of slave labor but on the North as well as Europe for imported goods. The South did not specialize in manufacturing, thus missing the industrialization that was happening in the North at the same time, but almost entirely in agriculture. Hereby, another term - the “Cotton Kingdom” is to be mentioned, which, in contrast to slavocracy, is an element of the Southern Myth. Cotton is used as a symbol for the promising Southern landscape - the endless cotton fields thus represent wealth and prosperity, even though, like previously stated, the South was not able to rely on its own economically.

By historians today it is said, that the Southerners simply were not cautious enough concerning their future and the future of their country. In the same manner, they started closing their eyes, denying. Such denial is to be found in literature as well, notably in the writings after the Civil War.

The first “plantation novel to be named” is George Tuckers “Valley of Shenandoah”, with which, according to Natalie Dissens (2004), he “opens the path to Southern novelists whose works clearly attempt to illuminate the positive features of the South, while still refusing to ignore the darker corners of the picture” (Dissens 157). He therefore contributed to the creation of a soon-to-be myth.

Noticeably, a certain form of denial, like this romanticizing fiction writing, which is supposed to depict history as it shall be remembered, can be connected to the nostalgia among Southern writers, which was triggered by the Civil War to a large extent. In denial lies one major element of nostalgia, the glorification of the truth. Nostalgia in itself stands for the past being glorified and yearned for, whereas the denial simply builds the ground for what nostalgia is equipped with.

Along the way on the nation's search for identity, the diversities between the North and the South kept on growing. Economic rivalry aside, the South wished to remain a slave society. The fear of change is another theme in literature, matching the public opinion among Southerners of being a distinct people. The wish and need for preservation of the status quo drives the South into wanting to secede and become the Confederate States of America, which, according to George Fitzhugh, is the only true place to be (Jones 1912).

Apart from Fitzhugh, voices grew louder in defense of slavery and the justification thereof. Finally, the secession from the North and consequently a true Southern identity as well as a sense of belonging to a nation should emerge. Unfortunately for the South, the great Cause was lost. The Southern states could not possibly have won this war, which, after four years of fighting, ultimately resulted in a “civilization gone with the wind” as Margaret Mitchell later expresses.

Reviewing the former mentioned arrogance and the enormous amount of confidence with which the Confederacy entered this war, the disappointment must have been unbearable, aside from the pain of seeing one's country fall apart.

Many scholars name the end of the war as the most productive time in Southern literature. Notable is the opportunity to now embed even more stereotypes - or those attributes that were to become such - in literature. Now that the war has been lost, the former society, which makes the setting for plantation novels, can be overtly glorified, even more than before, since this society and all of the structures holding it together were gone and now only traceable by oral tradition or in former literature.

The elements embedded in former literature could accordingly be exaggerated. The constituents of the picture to be drawn of the Old South were to be chosen by Southern literates, who chose to mystify it to a large extent. This choice is in great part made due to all the emotions, that have been stirred up by losing the war such as hurt pride and pain and especially, the longing for what was believed to be the better past.

A prewar polemic writing (in competition to the North) became the myth-making process, the content of which we are still familiar with today. Since secession or slavery were of no matter any longer, writers were able to elaborate on all the positive aspects the South once had without attacking the North after the war. Thus, the necessary acceptance of the lost cause led to a coping mechanism which was best expressed in literature: nostalgic writing. The longing for what once was and the glorification thereof. Consequently, “in the moment of death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality” (Warren 15).

Not only the Confederacy as such but the Civil War as a whole entered the history books as what appears to be the one thing that cannot be forgotten and keeps on fascinating people. The reason for this never-ending fascination can be found in the war being “the one true, felt piece of American history” (Warren 1961, 2). Robert Penn Warren, a famous scholar who has composed “The Legacy of the Civil War”, which will be worked with within this analysis, managed to summarize the complex matter of how the Civil War and its aftermath still fascinate people. He further elaborates the significance of the war can be found in the fact that the “Revolution did not create a nation except on paper” (Warren 3).

Clearly, the development of the South before, during and after the war supported the makings of the Southern myth as we recognize it today. By definition, a myth is the occurrence of something that was never really there. Maybe the Old South is just that, material for a fantasy.

Within this paper, the depiction of the Southern Myth in literature shall be aimed at. In this regard, it needs to be debated, whether or not the Myth of the Old South does qualify as such, while further exploring the circumstances, in which such a myth can flourish. It shall be shown, how nostalgia, resulting from the Lost Cause, fueled the makings of the Myth. In order to keep the topic focused on just the myth, it will be exemplified my thesis with chosen material instead of giving an overview of literature which would barely scratch the surface. The main focus is to be put on Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind, since it combines every last element which triggers nostalgia for the Old South and can therefore be seen as the main ingredient in preserving the Southern Myth as well as adding new components to it. Gone with the Wind is a major piece of American literature, still sold by the thousands every year. It employs the status of plantation fiction, while simultaneously critically reviewing the planter aristocracy.

Throughout my research, passages of Gone with the Wind shall be embedded into almost every chapter to support my thesis with this prime example of Southern plantation writing. In composing my thesis I have used scholarly works from varying points of time as well as differing origins of authors in order to gain a wide perspective. One important title I will work with is William Taylor's Cavalier and Yankee, in which the authors reconstruct the makings of an American identity previous to the Civil War while analyzing literature as well as culture. Taylor's book is referred to as one of the most famous works on American history that has been published in the 1960s.

Secondly, Robert Penn Warren's Legacy of the Civil War is to be looked upon. Warren, managed to depict the very complex matter of the Civil War while leaving no element, that could possibly be of importance, untouched.

Another work of great importance is the Companion to the Literature and Culture of the South, edited by Richard Gray and Owen Robinson, who, in several chapters have achieved to establish a work containing the representation of Southern literature from the Jamestown settlers to contemporary writers. Specifically, the layout is instrumental in accessing the cultural backgrounds, since the authors have craftily connected literary and cultural aspects.

Jay B. Hubbell was a Professor of American Literature in Duke University & Chairman of the Editorial Board of American Literature. Furthermore, he founded the quarterly journal American Literature (1928), which was innovative by the time since concerned with a new field of study: the study of literature. Thus, the importance of his persona can be seen in his contributions to the establishment of American literary studies. In his later years, he wrote a compendium of Southern Literature from colonial times until the turn of the 19th century. The South in American Literature 1607-1900 (1973) will also be used supporting the argumentation of this paper. Its importance lies in the universality, Hubbel tried to cover. The chapters are arranged chronologically, while first reflecting on the historical background and secondly depicting every author of meaning to the particular periods of time. Deriving from Hubbel's work is a consecutive depiction of Southern literature.

The several other works I will use shall be named individually within the chapters they are embedded into.

Chapter one aims at the introduction of the complex term “nostalgia”, which functions as an essential ingredient in the makings of the myth. Due to the great importance of the Civil War, the loss of which being the activator for nostalgia, a short summary in regard to the consequences for the Southern identity shall be given.

The second chapter is employed with the attempt to define “myth”, in order to work with the term within this thesis. The term is even more complex than “nostalgia”, which is somewhat universally understood. When it comes to “myth”, though, every culture's imagination differs. Some may think of Greek mythology, in which polytheism was supposedly promoted2, others might use the term when referring to a more contemporary matter or a popular belief such as the myth of spinach making one strong because of its main ingredient being iron.

In order to reconstruct the circumstances, which have enabled the Southern Myth to grow to such an extent, the development of the Southern identity will be reconstructed within the third chapter, followed by the development of the Southern literary identity, since fiction writing functions as the platform for verbalizing the myth. Especially plantation fiction greatly accounts for the creation of the myth, which is what the main focus shall lie on.

Hereby, the connection between fiction and history becomes apparent. History is being rewritten, historical accounts are being falsified or at least altered to a certain extent to construct a nicer picture of slavery especially, thus contributing to the myth. This task appears to be the most difficult one, since especially narrative history writing is indeed fictional as well.

Consequently, chapter four deals with the interplay of fiction and history within Gone with the Wind and to a smaller extent, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Even though Mitchell did indeed contribute to the already existing myth, enlarging it for the society of the twentieth century, she nonetheless critically depicts plantation life. The manner of her being critical while at the same time glamorizing the Old South are very meaningful in terms of nostalgia and therefore shall be the main focus within this chapter.

Chapter five examines the New South, a term supposedly coined by Henry W. Grady, meaning the postwar South. Thomas Nelson Page's input in the form of plantation fiction can be seen as the most prominent of examples. Yet, counterparts to Page, who occupied himself in rather romantic fiction, emerged after the period of Reconstruction, darkening the picture of the Old South. Amazingly, even William Faulkner, whose The Sound and the Fury shall be shortly analyzed in terms of the depicted decline and ultimate decay of the Southern aristocracy, seemed to have been nostalgic for the Old South. Thus, the fifth chapter's focus lies on the extensions to the myth carried out by the concept of the New South.

The sixth and last chapter “The Myth Prevails” provides a glimpse into what is understood of the myth nowadays. Although this is mostly being carried out in pop-culture, the roots of old southern stereotypes can still be found. In this regard I will look at the TV- show Hart of Dixie, which unifies all the elements of the Old South but embedding it into a modern society, thus employing features of the New South as well. A detailed analysis will depict its rich contents concerning the Southern Myth and thus summarizes how it prevails.

I. Nostalgia for the Old South

Nostalgia is a compound consisting of two Greek words: nostos, which describes the “longing to return home” and algos, meaning “pain”. According to Anderson (2005), it was first used by a Swiss doctor in 1688 to describe soldiers abroad, thus “nostalgia” inherits a medical connotation, referring to a kind of an illness (106). Apart from the longing to return home, one longs for the past, which was supposedly better than the present. Feeling nostalgic also means viewing the future even darker than the present. One is inclined to glorify the past and thus fade out any negative influences. Such as the characters in Gone with the Wind remember the past to be amazingly great but forget, that their lifestyle could not have gone on forever due to the economic struggles of the South, for example. Some characters like Ashley dwell in it, whereas others deny feeling nostalgic, since it is too painful.

Lee Glazer and Susan Key published a journal called “Carry me back. Nostalgia for the Old South in Nineteenth- Century Popular Culture” (1996). Although the journal's main focus is on music, their comparison of nostalgia for old Southern ways before and after the war plus their comparison of nostalgia in the North and in the South is very revealing. Glazer and Lee mention the existence of a Southern Myth of “regional superiority” in the 1830s, which was used to justify the power of the planter (Lee/Glazer 2f.). Thinking of George Fitzhugh, who will be of greater concern in chapter III.1.2, for example, who composed numerous scripts doing exactly that, justifying the power of the planter, this makes sense.

Fitzhugh and other apologists' acknowledged popularity did not reach its peak before the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, though. Therefore, it needs to be distinguished, if by the 1830s, the feeling of “regional superiority” can be called a myth yet. A myth usually requires temporal distance to evolve and cannot be connected to an actual moment in time (Bascom 4). By 1820 “there was a greater rivalry between East and West than between North and South” (Hubbel 169) but in that year it had to be decided whether Missouri should enter the Union as a free or a slave state, which caused the first noticeable trouble between the North and the South. In defense of slavery, the South indeed did develop a feeling of unity. Before, people felt themselves to be Virginians or Georgians or Americans in the broadest sense. Still, if one can talk of a myth regarding those feelings of regional superiority is highly questionable. Elaborating on that question calls for a definition of the term myth, which shall follow in the next chapter.

In the Northern states, nostalgia for the South can be traced back to the industrialization as well as the urbanization, which people yearned to escape from, leading to “emphasizing individual emotion and dealing less overtly with issues of class and race” (Lee/Glazer 3). Among the most prominent forms of nostalgic arts is the parlor song, which “remained an institution” due to its being sung, thus representing an old tradition in a time in which Northern people were surrounded by technical innovations (Lee/Glazer 3).

A large number of songs contained the plantation as a setting, since it was profitable for both consumers and composers. A typical scenario in the parlor song was the happy slave, who had left the plantation and now reminisces about it in a heartbreaking manner. Using the black narrator by the time was a way of showing off the discrepancies between North and South, since the Northern listener supposedly projected himself onto the narrator (Lee/Glazer 11).

Nostalgic plantation literature was to be found as well but absolutely did not receive the same attention in the moment of publication. Instead, Southern literature by the time of the 1830s was seen as mere amusement, whereas contemporary writers were hardly taken seriously in both Southern and Northern states (Hubbell 212).

While comparing Northern and Southern antebellum nostalgia, one has to keep in mind that Northerners were far away and to a certain extent unable, as has been stated above, to obtain their own experiences of rural life. Especially the distance in space heightened the nostalgic feelings for the land far away. The parlor songs contained nostalgia for the North as well, for something that has been lost in the distant past.

Antebellum nostalgia in the South looked quite different. For once, it was more effective, since plantations really did exist. In fact, the authors blame the society for what was to become this gigantic myth: “The appropriation of the South as a marketable myth both before and after the Civil War depended not so much on real temporal distance as on the public's willingness to project the Old South into an imaginary remove” (Lee/Glazer 4). This remove needed to be assimilated, processed into objects. It built the base for the myth, a base to be sewed and colored by different components. Consequently, real-life experience was “unnecessary to either the production or the enjoyment of nostalgia for the Old South” (Lee/Glazer 2). Apart from the parlor song, literature played an important role in equipping this remove with different fabrics.

Nostalgia for the Old South becomes especially important after the Civil War. People need to cope with the loss of the war and thus “tend to make the past comprehensible in relation to the present conditions of the here and now”, whereas memory functions as the “great organizer of consciousness”, allowing one to alter the past and simplify it in a way. (Anderson 107). One's memories can be altered to such an extent, that we completely forget any kind of negative aspects of past events. The feeling of nostalgia is what is granting this chance. Reminders of a glorious past are constructed within one's own mind, consequently, if there is no desire for remembrance, there does not have to be. Since the subject of the past, may it be a person, a place or a special day, is gone and one is unable to reconstruct it, it can only be remembered. This is exactly where the essence of nostalgia lies, in its “inability to approach its subject (because it is gone)” (Anderson 108).

With regard to the postbellum situation in the South, one has to keep in mind that the society was entirely uprooted and afraid of the not knowing, scared of losing their existence once and for all. This “dislocation of identity” consequently leads to the glorification of the past, in which one's identity was believed to be whole. In order to keep this stable past identity alive, people tend to “remember more romantically than historically” (Anderson 108). Therefore, nostalgia was largely compelling in these days, since the “wholeness of a blissful antebellum past was denied to the wretched postbellum present”. The loss of identity in times of fear and anxiety makes the desire for preservation become crucial, and opens up the possibility for authors to draw even more out of line.

Elite white Southerners started coping by publishing autobiographical literature, in which they “recorded memories of prewar plenty through wartime privation to postwar ruin” (Anderson 110). Among them were Virginia Clay-Clopton of Alabama, who published her memoirs of the South. James Battle Avirett can be named as yet another autobiographer.

Not only triggered the Southern loss of identity nostalgia but the “discontinuity of experience” that went hand in hand with it. Mary Boykin Chestnut was among those writers, whose personal experiences served to emphasize the individual effects of malevolent historical forces (Anderson 113). Chestnut's accounts function as a prime example to demonstrate the impact of the Civil War on Southern historical feelings but also as an account of truthful depiction of the life in the Southern upper class, as shall be shown later on.

In Eliza Francis Andrews' “War-Time Journal of a Georgia girl”, the writer expressed that the war caused the passing of a “cherished civilization” and therefore the “certainty what it meant to be Southern” (Anderson 115).

In summary, nostalgia can be defined as the painful longing for a past, which is gone and will never come back. A person might desperately try to recreate this past only to stumble upon disappointment. The attempt of reconstructing one's past only aggravates the pain. Nostalgia unifies a range of negative feelings such as discontinuity, death, defeat and the change or even loss of identity. The persons feeling nostalgic might have acquired the impression, that they have lost a part of themselves due to changes they were incapable to influence, such as their growing older.

II. The Old Southern Myth

The reevaluation of the Southern Myth calls for a definition of “myth”. William Bascom (1965) has published a journal, in which he attempts to define “myth”, “legend” and “folklore”. Since the Thesaurus dictionary lists “legend” as a synonym for “myth”3, both definitions shall be offered here. Furthermore, the tales told about the Old South qualify as legends.

Afterwards the attempt will be made to compose a definition that can be worked with within this paper. While consulting several platforms, lots of similarities can be found describing the term “myth”. It is referred to as an idea, a story that people believe although it is untrue. Matching my former argumentation is the fact that a myth is usually “a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people […]” (Merriam-Webster 2015), such an intention was appointed to Mitchell's novel for instance. Additionally, also applying to the Southern Myth, a myth is “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone” (Merriam-Webster). The Southern Myth revolves around the “cause” - the change for the better, the preservation of the status quo and the consequences of the Civil War.

Myths are concerned with “a person or a thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence” (Webster), such as the Cotton Kingdom the South is believed to have been. In truth, cotton was a “latecomer”, eventually outpacing the other staples such as rice or tobacco (Tindall/Shi 630 f.). Going hand in hand with the stereotype of the Cotton Kingdom were the large numbers of slaves planters supposedly owned. In fact, only a few states had as many slaves as white people. Moreover, according to Dissens (2004), the entire idea of the planter figure promoted in plantation fiction can be accounted as a myth. By definition, a planter needed to own more than twenty slaves. Consulting the numbers, the planter class only occupied 0,6% of the white population by the year 1860. Even more interesting is the fact, that calling oneself a “big planter” required owning more than fifty slaves, which was seldom the case. Only 1% of the heads of households qualified as big planters by 1860, most of them living in Louisiana. The largest part of the population were poor white people, who, prior to the War, did not find their way into plantation fiction very often (Dissens 36 ff.).

The Oxford Dictionary provides the following: “a story from ancient times, especially one that was told to explain natural events or to describe the early history of a people”, while also listing “legend” as a subdivision: “something that many people believe but that does not exist or is false” (Oxford 1012). Bascom's definition offers:

“Myths are prose narratives which, in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past. They are accepted on faith, they are taught to be believed; and they can be cited as authority in answer to ignorance, doubt, or disbelief” (Bascom 4).

Bascoms definition is missing the fact that myths are supposedly constructed to change the world view on something, on the other hand he states myths would be “told to be believed”. In order to detect similarities between myth and legend, Bascom's definition of legend follows:

“Legends are prose narratives which, like myths, are regarded as true by the narrator and his audience, but they are set in a period considered less remote, when the world was much as it is today. Legends are more often secular than sacred, and their principal characters are human. They tell of migrations, wars and victories, deeds of past heroes, chiefs, and kings, and succession in ruling dynasties. In this they are often the counterpart in verbal tradition of written history, but they also include local tales of buried treasure, ghosts, fairies, and saints.” (Bascom 4 f.)

Bascom categorizes myths and legends as being prose narratives to distinguish those forms from other forms of “verbal art such as poems, riddles [...]” (3) and thus attributes another feature to the terms. Although prose can also refer to spoken language4, which would mean orally traded stories could qualify as myths as well. After all, this is how Mitchell constructed her bestseller - by collecting stories told by the elderly people in Jonesboro, Georgia, where the novel is set and the author grew up (Conroy 2008).

Similar in both definitions is the fact that the stories told are believed to be true by the narrator as well as his audience. This definitely applies to the Myth of the Old South and finds its roots in the Southern search for identity, with which chapter III will be employed.

Summarizingly to say, a myth is a story told with regard to explaining and describing the world we live in. Myths have no scientific foundation but are yet to be treated as anthropological accounts. While observing the Myth of the Old South, the following summarized definition applies:

The Southern Myth is a narrative which finds its foundation in times of settlers among other American myths. The occurrence of these myths can be traced back merely to the establishment of a new country and the expectations going hand in hand with it. Before the war, it was fueled by the establishment of a distinct society, after the war nostalgia became the main ingredient in myth-making. In case of the Southern Myth, the term myth gains another attribute. Since Southerners depicted themselves as being different and were depicted as a unique people from the outside as well, myth-making functioned as the justification of this diversity in prewar- and in war-times, whereas after the war, myth-making is used to promote the South's former glory. Today's myth-making can be categorized as an attempt to lure in tourists.

III. The Search for Identity

The American national identity was of great concern in every part of the country during the 1820s, 1830s & 1840s, as scholar William Taylor (1961) points out in his work on the Southern myth, called “Cavalier and Yankee”. Apart from Taylor, I will consult the work of Florida scholar Nathalie Dissens (2004) to support this chapter, before later on focusing on actual works of fiction which represent the search for identity embedded in the time previous to the Civil War. Standing out is the large gap of time between these two publications but since Dissens criticized the same missing perspective on the diversities between Northern and Southern states in scholarly works of historians, that Taylor did decades in advance, I feel comfortable citing both.

During these three decades especially, the search for identity was preoccupying the nation. Questions were raised if America had become what all the fortune seekers had longed for. For the first time, Taylor states, Americans were able to read about “themselves” in works of fiction, since the wish for a diverse culture, one that has not just been copied from wherever settlers once came from in Europe, became the focus of literature as well as public speakers all over the country. Hereby one thing is alarming, the longing for an establishment of national character, meaning the entire Northern American continent. But, even though “the South experienced in some measure all of the historic forces which were fast changing the face of society in the North” (Taylor 16), diversities between the two can be traced back to colonial times and remain until today. Mainly, these differences aroused from different ways of thinking but also from unswayable forces.

Taylor summarizes:

“The economy of the South was less diversified, its population was more dispersed, its wealth more concentrated, its democracy less complete, and its cultural attainments by comparison very negligible. Most important of all, close to a third of its population lived in a condition of chattel slavery, a fact which exposed it to a growing wave of criticism not only from the North but from the whole Western world.” (Taylor 17).

Accordingly, filing the Southerners into the search for national identity, their position is somewhat unique. While the North critically viewed themselves as being too materialistic and constantly reflected on their principles, the South felt oppressed by all those critical voices5 and felt obligated to follow the national path. Ultimately, the already existing perception of being different was magnified and resulted in a feeling of superiority (Taylor 17f.).

Southerners have habitually defined themselves “against a national or international other” (Gray 4), whereas oppositions can easily be acknowledged given by the quotation above. Although every culture defines itself by opposing others, the case of the South can be considered special, due to its inhabitants' consciously reviewing the South as being marginalized while even admitting to previous failures.

From a Southern perspective, the “otherness of the North is central, whereas the South is placed on the boundary, posed as a deviation” (Gray 4). Thus, the distinction from others grew with the growing crisis. Southerners might have felt entitled to feeling superior due to them being pushed to the edge. The feeling of superiority also could have derived from a kind of protective mechanism. Matching this theory are the themes in Southern writing, which shall be reflected on in the chapter introducing plantation fiction.

Notably, primarily between the 1820s and the 1840s, the literary department produced most of its plantation fiction, which lay the ground for the Southern Myth. Matching the search for identity, plantation fiction opened up the possibility on picking the diversity of the South as a central theme and thus contribute to the justification of Southern structures. Before getting into the themes of plantation fiction, I will give an overview of the development of literature in the South up to the point of the publication of “Uncle Tom's Cabin”, which changed the literary landscape.

III. 1. Southern Literary Identity

S.A. Link, once writer for The New England Magazine, composed an article on the “Pioneers of Southern Literature” in the year 1894, thus providing a reflection on Southern literature in a time in which Reconstruction had already ended, from a Northern point of view.

[...]


1 While constructing the makings of the Southern Myth, pop-culture has to be included. Otherwise, the thesis could be considered inconclusive.

2 “Mythos.” Metzler Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie, 2008 ed.

3 http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/myth (accessed: 07/24/15)

4 “Prose,” Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, 2008 ed.

5 Not only did critical voices from around irrtitate the Southerners but voices from within, as well.

Excerpt out of 59 pages

Details

Title
The Old South in American Literature
Subtitle
Myth-Making and Nostalgia
College
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
Grade
3,0
Author
Year
2015
Pages
59
Catalog Number
V340218
ISBN (eBook)
9783668298194
ISBN (Book)
9783668298200
File size
736 KB
Language
English
Tags
Old South, USA, American Literature, Nostalgia, Gone with the Wind, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Myth of the Old South, Aristocracy;, Racism, Postcolonialism, civil war
Quote paper
Sarah Steppke (Author), 2015, The Old South in American Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/340218

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