Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Discussion on Southern vs. Plains Literaure

Tonight I went to a book discussion at the library. The book was Bailey White's "Mama makes up her mind and other dangers of southern living." At some point the leader mentioned how she was sure there was a kernel of truth in each of the characters. I mentioned that having grown up in the south they rang true to me.

This led to an interesting discussion about the differences in culture seen in the literature from the plains and from the south. The book discussion leader is an expert in Great Plains Literature. She said the literature of the south  is much more about characters and the plains literature is much more about the work.

I've often observed that in the south, "people take precedence" and here in the midwest the to-do list rules. It seems the literature backs that up. The great puzzle is why that's the case.

I posed that question and people suggested climate, but of course the climate is very similar in some places so I don't think that's the answer. The leader suggested the south was a plantation mindset, i.e. one of leisure and the midwest was a farming background. I told her I grew up on a farm and no one I knew had a plantation.

Ultimately, there didn't seem to be a real answer I could ferret out, but the question remains an interesting one.

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Anonymous said...

One difference is space. Plains people are much more spread out and isolated. It wasn't a to-do list as much as a survival thing. Nature can be very nasty to the unprepared on the plains, summer and winter. Farm towns are not centers of commerce or travel so the stranger passing through is not a regular part of the story. In fact, a stranger passing through was suspect because they had to be odd to be out in the middle of nowhere with no bigger places in any direction.
Plains lit. is steeped in isolation and survival. Southern lit., even the rural stuff, teems with people like a Manhattan street, in comparison.
I enjoy your blog.

Patsy Terrell said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm not that familiar with the literature - I was speaking about the "to-do" list in the current sense. These cultural things are really fascinating - how they develop and grow. I think you might be on to something here.