Seldom Ask, Never Tell: Labor and Discourse in Appalachia

By Anita Puckett | Go to book overview

7
"HELPIN SOMEBODY OUT": IMPERATIVES IN TASK SITUATIONS

"Hey, Claude, hand me that rope."

I visited Cindy's place one afternoon, knowing that she was moving and that I was "needed" to help load the truck. Tom was there with his truck, helping to load and volunteering to drive his truck to the new place. Having greeted him, I asked what brought him here on a sunny afternoon. He replied, "Just hɛpin a neighbor out." [notes 7/86]

One summer afternoon, Susie related her daily activities to me as she usually did when we visited. In the narrative stream of events, she mentioned that she "swung by Mom's." She "needed help" with Matthew (a young grandson, not one of Susie's children). [notes 6/86]

CONTRARY TO POPULAR CULTURE STEREOTYPES, Ash Creek residents are generally laboring, or "doin somethin" during waking hours. Most children are socialized from five or six years old to activities that contribute to household maintenance. One's activities at any given time are likely to dominate "just talkin" exchanges. The metapragmatic functions created or reproduced in these conversations reassert a well-developed ideology of task-focused communication. A primitive component in constituting this ideology 1 is that "doin somethin" references a physical activity. The "sayin" "around here, honey, we work with our hands, not with our heads" describes one way individuals are likely to interpret and assign value to labor. Individuals are expected to be "keepin busy," even if it is simply turning the pages of a grocery store insert in a newspaper or waiting for hours to shoot unwanted groundhogs in a garden. This task-orientation is so well developed that performing some type of task often replaces other forms of recreational activity, such as reading or playing board games, which do not result in something "gIttin done."

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