From Folklore to Mythology: Paul Green's Roll Sweet Chariot

By Pearce, Howard D. | The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 1971 | Go to article overview

From Folklore to Mythology: Paul Green's Roll Sweet Chariot


Pearce, Howard D., The Southern Literary Journal


In spite of the abundance of myth criticism in our time, the degree to which twentieth-century literature has exploited myth has yet to be realized. Recognized as a present writer of the outdoor pageant play (in his words, "symphonic drama"), and a past writer of regional, "folk," and experimental drama, Paul Green is another of those dramatists such as T. S. Eliot and Tennessee Williams who have turned to myth in search of universal meanings. Indeed, Green began writing plays in the early 1920's when myth was in the air. The seminal work, Sir James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, was published between 1890 and 1915, claiming to show the universality of myths. Jesse Weston's From Ritual to Romance, 1920, had a similar impact. And T. S. Eliot revealed the significance of these writers in his notes to The Wasteland (1922). Green's plays written between 1920 (The Last of the Lowries) and 1934 (Roll Sweet Chariot) show a progress from folk materials and realistic manner toward a blend of folk-mythic matter and symbolic, anti-realistic technique. Green recapitulates, then, an historical development from the superficial American regionalism of the late nineteenth century to the search for deeper reality through myth, symbol, and experimental form.

It may be well to note Green's early accomplishment as a realistic and "folk" dramatist before attempting to show how folk elements blend with myth in what may be Green's finest achievement, Roll Sweet Chariot. (1) That Green sought the essence of life and art in the elemental and the ceremonial, or ritual, is evident from his theoretic and critical works. In Forever Growing he writes that festivals such as those celebrated on May Day show that there is "throughout the land a people alive with the sense of celebration." He feels that "all folk arts" exist as "the decorations of life, the inspiration, the fire, and color and drive and depthful meaning of life." (2) Green's mentor, Frederick Koch, would make primitive ritual a direct progenitor of sophisticated theater:

   The elaborate snake dances of our Hopi Indians on the mesas of New Mexico
   and the three-day sun dance of the Shoshones in their Wind River country of
   Western Wyoming are colorful illustrations of the ancient culture of our
   aboriginal Americans. The civilized theatre is but the natural evolution of
   the song-and-dance drama of such primitive worshipers. (3)

Green's early plays, of course, have provoked an image of the playwright as a rather simple, forthright craftsman who scarcely modifies the material he finds at hand in his region. Barrett H. Clark, evaluating him primarily on the basis of the early plays, justifiably emphasized the regionalism, simplicity, and artlessness evident in these plays. Because Clark was writing at such an early stage in Green's career, it was easy for him to overstress Green's being a farm boy who had made good in the theater, a figure not unlike the legendary Bobby Burns. Green was for Clark no "literary man," in that he showed little tendency toward contrivance. Clark observed, "In reading him I am stirred by no formal pattern of art or rearrangement of human characteristics." (4) He felt that Wide Fields and In Abraham's Bosom were "direct transcriptions of the lives of men and women whose hearts are laid bare in all their simplicity.... The Field God and The Hot Iron are untouched pictures drawn with passion and gusto, set down without comment or factitious decoration." (5) Such judgments by Clark have perhaps been instrumental in leading other writers to view Green in the same light. Felix Sper writes that Green in the Negro plays copies "life, not the theater." (6) One may detect a certain disdain in Sper's observation. For him, assuredly, the native writer in his innocence and ignorance is closer to the wells of truth than is the sophisticated or learned writer who draws from a literary tradition. Confessing that Green's plots may be weak, Sper argues that "in compensation, the air of casual progression he sometimes achieves resembles life itself. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

From Folklore to Mythology: Paul Green's Roll Sweet Chariot
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.