Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fred Hobson--Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (1983)

Hobson traces what he calls the “rage to explain” which he sees as a constant in writings by those from the American South since before the Civil War.  According to Hobson, “the Southerner, more than other Americans, has felt he had something to explain, to justify, defend, or to affirm” (3).  Interestingly, he observes that not only do they often feel that they need to defend the South’s inferior status, but that many take pride, “a sense of distinction, of superiority, stemming from this inferior status.  The Southerner, that is to say, wears his heritage of failure and defeat as his badge of honor” (12).  Hobson breaks up the authors in his analysis into three large historical groups: antebellum writers, those writing “after Appomattox,” and those writing during and since the Civil Rights era.  Those writing before the Civil War were generally defending the Southern way of life—specifically, a way of life centered around race-based slavery.  After the Civil War, writers defended the southern way of life they saw destroyed by the War and particularly by Reconstruction, and many mythologized the lost way of life.  However, there were some, like George Washington Cable, whose work began to be critical of the South, especially in its racial policies.  By the twentieth century, writers became much more proscriptive in their work, culminating in the work of the 1920s and 1930s, which saw the publication of I’ll Take My Stand by the Vanderbilt-based Agrarians as well as the sociology-based work of writers such as Howard Odum at the University of North Carolina.  According to Hobson, the Agrarians saw the South’s major problem as one of public relations, while the North Carolina school writers were more concerned with addressing the problems of the South such as poverty, disease, and racism.  By the Civil Rights era, writers either tried to explain the myth of the South, or encourage the South to give up segregation.  By Hobson’s writing, in the wake of the Civil Rights era, the mythic South had given way to the progressive “Sun Belt,” and writers were now “focusing on the picturesque, on the South as cultural museum of charms and oddities.

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