A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction

A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction

A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction

A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction

Synopsis

"Rednecks" have long been subjects of scorn and ridicule, especially in the South. Carr probes the historical and sociological reasons for the descent of this social class into poverty, their inability to rise above it, and their continuing subjugation to a stereotype developed by others-and all too often accepted by themselves. Carr also records the progress in Southern fiction of this negative stereotype, from antebellum writers who saw rednecks as threats to the social order, to post-Civil War writers who lamented the lost potential of these people and urged sympathy and understanding, to contemporary writers who favor acceptance. Ultimately, this work is an evaluation of individual Southern fiction writers in their capacity to rise above stereotyping.

Excerpt

It might seem at first glance that I have used "redneck" and "poor white" interchangeably in this work. There is a reason for this. "Poor white" is the term most writers and critics have used in the past to describe disadvantaged and dispossessed southern white citizens. The problem is that the term now appears somewhat old-fashioned and, despite the original intent, has evolved into a largely derogatory term. "Redneck," on the other hand, has come into use more recently by some historians and social critics to describe not only the earlier "poor whites" but what might be seen as their descendants, working-class whites who may have decent jobs, especially when compared to an older generation, but who have maintained an identity with the original group. One reason for this identification is that the psychological wounds of the "poor white" experience are often passed from generation to generation.

I admit, however, a reluctance to use either term. At the same time, the more neutral terms "disadvantaged" and/or "dispossessed" have proven awkward in most instances. It has therefore seemed appropriate and more natural to use "poor white" when discussing authors and historians of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, acknowledging in this way their use of the term, and to reserve "redneck" for the sections on more recent literature. As will be noted, I have, in each instance, felt a need to enclose both terms in quotation marks.

The book is divided into four parts, each representing a specific period in southern literary history—the antebellum, post‐ Civil War, modern, and contemporary. The chapters that introduce the various periods lay the historical and sociological groundwork for the discussions of individual writers that follow.

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