A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction

By Duane Carr | Go to book overview

17

Harry Crews:
The Dispossessed as Poor White Trash

Harry Crews has closer ties to disadvantaged whites than do most authors, although his repeated claim that "I was a sharecropper's son" (Blood and Grits 146) suggests more perhaps than is actually true. For his father, an adventurous young man, had sharecropped briefly so that he could save money to buy a piece of land and settle a black family on it, paying them wages—all of which occurred by the time Crews was twenty-one months old. At that point the father died (A Childhood 148-50).

This is not to say that Crews does not feel the anger and frustration of the "redneck"—his origins are rural and southern, and often not that far removed from abject poverty, especially when his mother was working at a cigar factory and the family was forced to accept food and clothing from charitable agencies (132‐ 33).

But Crews himself has felt compelled to modify his own myth, at one point correcting an interviewer who innocently stated that Crews would, as a child, "eat dirt to get the minerals you needed." Crews' response: "We didn't have to eat dirt, but we did. That's not too unusual for kids to do" (Walsh 97).

All of this is important because claims have been made for Crews's expertise in writing about "poor whites." Frank W. Shelton, for example, has said that "Crews, to my knowledge, is absolutely unique among southern writers in that he writes about life from the perspective of the poor white. He writes from within the class, not observing it from without, the traditional perspective of white southern writers" (47-50). And William M. Moss cites Crews's fusing with the protagonist Joe Lon Mackey in A Feast of Snakes (1976) as an example of this lower-class affinity (44-45).

But, in truth, there is much in Joe Lon that is not lower-class at all. He dates the most popular cheerleader at the high school, a thing few "poor white" students would dream of doing, and his

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