October 13, 2003

Long Live the South!

For someone of Southern heritage and persuasion (shut up, Scholl) who has grown up steeped in something of a golden, pristine view of Southern history and culture (wait for a minute until I can quantify that statement) it is easy to view both the South and its history with a large amount of nostalgia. Yeah. Nostalgia for something I never really saw or experienced. It is something that I am vaguely aware of from time spent in Texas and from even more time immersed in things of which I will speak in a moment.

Now, as a student of history, I am fully aware (somewhere in the back of my mind) of all the wrong that has happened in this area of the country. Nobody's perfect . . . but I'm not even going to brush it off by attempting to justify it (that way, or any other way). No, what I'm talking about here is the view provided to me by literature. No other area of American literature is quite as replete with such colorful characters, such rich pageantry, or . . . words fail me at 2:00 in the morning, if you're going to get my point, you'll have already gotten it. I've lived in the culture, so I know it's real. I've read all about its lighter side, so I want to experience more of it.

Just to name a few pertinent authors: Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Willie Morris, and John Grisham.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is still a book that I can sit down with randomly, and read through without moving. "Tom Sawyer" is a perennial favorite which I have always loved. "Gone With the Wind" is, to my mind, the quintessential historical fiction novel . . . A daunting, but worthwhile read. Someday, I'll go back and read it two or three more times, I'm sure. Moving into the realm of lesser known and more recent work: "Taps" is all about pure, untainted memories of growing up in Mississippi in the 1950's. "A Painted House" really resonates with me because it's pretty much about my family's last few generations. Under different circumstances, I could be the main character. My dad and grandad are both featured in the book, to some degree. I had the opportunity to discuss it with them this summer after they had both read it, and that particular assessment stands.

Where am I going with all of this? I attempt merely to paint a picture of the Fantasy South I'm used to visiting in order to pave the way for what is to come. A striking example of the darker side of Southern literature and history has recently forced itself upon my attention in the form of a novel written in 1905 by the Reverend Thomas Dixon. Naturally I am fascinated by this concept and anxious to read said novel based largely on its historical and cultural value (not concerning the period which it seeks to portray, but rather of the period during which it was written), with some attention to its literary value (being a student of that discipline as well). And of course when something fascinates me it winds up on here in some form or another. The integration of a different facet into one's perspective, especially if it is an element of realism introduced into an idealized semi-Utopian vision, can only grant a more accurate and complete picture of the truth.

I'll keep my pretty fiction of an innocent South certainly, with that special, half-regretful longing usually connected with early childhood (since it was, after all, during my childhood that these visions formed in my imagination), but I would be remiss (both as a person, and as a student of history) if I peckishly pushed aside anything which might lend to the dream something of the reality simply because I feared to taint it. With this disclaimer in place (and with an apology for the extremely disjointed nature of this post):

Check it out.

Your comments are welcome, as always . . . And I love discussions about this, so if you are one of those lucky enough to have Personal Access to me, I won't shy away from a face-to-face, either.

Posted by Jared at October 13, 2003 01:11 AM | TrackBack