Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson

By Herman Beavers | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Voices from the Underground: Conspiracy, Intimacy, and Voice in Gaines's Fictions

what is lost is his voice in your voice; gained in what you say and do.

-- Michael S. Harper, "Gains"


1

Southern writing often fuses communal memory and storytelling with resonant force. In Eudora Welty's short story, "The Wide Net," for example, a community of men gather to drag the river for William Wallace Jamieson's wife after she leaves a note informing him she has gone to drown herself. Though such news should cause great urgency, if not total despair, the crisis soon turns into a celebratory moment, complete with a fishfry and a long nap after the meal. In William Faulkner's story, "Spotted Horses," a herd of wild horses wreak havoc in a town when they break out of their corral. Afterward, the men gather on the porch of Will Varner's general store to swap tales about their respective attempts to capture the beasts. In Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, men and women on the muck gather after a hard day's work in the fields to "tell lies." And back in Eatonville the men of the community hold a "funeral," complete with a eulogy, for a dead mule.

Examples like this abound, and they can be found in the fictions of black and white authors alike. As implements of "everyday use," stories are sites of an intimacy that articulate the South's complexity. But they can just as easily speak to the manner in which secrecy, manipulation and deceit are all to be found in Southern fiction. Thus Southern communities often combine the intimate and the conspiratorial into an often indistinguishable relation. In Welty's story, William Wallace

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