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The Narrative Forms of Southern Community

Southern Literary Studies

248 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

Literature - American

  Paperback / 9780807125274 / October 1999

In this succinct study, Scott Romine considers a key paradox that has been associated with the concept of “community” from the beginning of modern southern literary criticism: namely, that communities often valued for their cohesiveness and moral stability were at the same time sites of oppression along race and class lines. The Narrative Forms of Southern Community contains close readings of five narratives—Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes, John Pendleton Kennedy’s Swallow Barn, Thomas Nelson Page’s In Ole Virginia, William Alexander Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee, and William Faulkner’s Light in August—that attempt to mediate or negotiate the social tensions inherent in the stratified world they represent.

Whereas most earlier examinations of community are thematically oriented, this study focuses on the formal structures that allow the narrative in question to recover an image of an ideal social order. In particular, this book traces the narrative strategies of deferral, displacement, and evasion that enable what can be thought of as “simulated consensus,” a paradox that informs all of the works under discussion. Romine suggests that community is better conceived as a social group that, lacking a commonly held view of reality, connects by means of norms, codes, and manners that produce an artificial, or at least symbolically constituted, social reality.

By exploring the various ways in which writers associated with the cultural status quo attempt to rationalize the oppressive nature of society, this first book-length study of community in southern literature contributes greatly to current revisionary reappraisals by going beyond many of the old assumptions. 

Scott Romine, an associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is the author of The Narrative Forms of Southern Community.

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