Southern Women Reconstruct the South: Limit as Aesthetic in the Short Story
Barbara C. Ewell
The founding assumption here is rather modest, a commonplace, if you will: It is that place--specifically the American South--is a construction, that the very ground we stand on, the spaces we can or do inhabit, are the products of the stories we tell. The corollary of that assumption, or at least the space I wish to explore, is that places can also be reconstructed, yielding new grounds, new perspectives; and that when "others"--such as Southern women writers of the short story--have confronted one of the most enduring of American places, the patriarchal South, the reconstruction that results has interesting implications for what we have typically regarded as the limits of place, the limits of regionality, indeed for the notion of limit itself, and what I view as the false equation of limit and insignificance that has plagued not only regionalism, but also the short story, the work of women, and all other "others."
Storytelling is something Southerners are supposed to be good at doing. At least we like to tell that story about ourselves--that part of the birthright is to be aficionados of tales: family stories on the front porch or around the kitchen table, Bible stories from the pulpit and in Sunday School, hunting tales and barroom lies, local legends about Big Foot or Marie Laveau or UFOs, ancient gossip about the relatively rich or the regionally famous or the just plain odd.
But stories construct places as well as lives: Whether we live in Dixie or the Sunbelt (or in the very different Southland of the Pacific Coast), or dwell beside the banks of the Balbahachas, the Fleuve Saint Louis, or the Mississippi1 depends a great deal on the stories we have heard and believed about Mason and Dixon's surveying abilities, or about economic redevelopment, about states' rights, or about the newness of the "New World." Such names, of course, consolidate histories no less than those we adopt from our fathers. But those names radically affect our behaviors, determining what we think, what we can (or ought) to do, what we can (or cannot) see in the physical landscape around