14 October 2011

Southern Place and Voice

Posted by Jody under: Communication .

Southern writers are “Southern” for two basic reasons: the place of their birth and/or fiction and the voice of their narrators and characters. For Southern literature, a sense of place is central. From the hot summers of the Spanish moss-lined swamps of the Mississippi Delta depicted by William Faulkner to the bluegrass of Bobbie Ann Mason’s Kentucky, Southern place is lovingly rendered in its greatest literature.

A musical voice
Connected to this sense of place is what I find most appealing about Southern literature: its strong sense of the musical ways that people speak. It has been said that Mark Twain changed the face of American literature forever when he brought the voice of Huckleberry Finn into the American novel, and I can’t disagree with that. In the late 19th century, Twain and other Southern humorists such as George Washington Cable and Joel Chandler Harris brought Southern dialects and a Southern propensity for storytelling into the literary mainstream.

Echoes in time
After Twain, this Southern vernacular became the defining characteristic of American literature as a whole. By displaying the literary qualities of even the most down-and-out characters in society, Southern literature has revealed itself as a profoundly democratic genre.

We hear endless inflections of these democratic voices today in writings by Alice Walker, Cormac McCarthy, Kaye Gibbons, Barry Hannah, and Ellen Gilchrist.

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