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Southern Frontier Humor

New Approaches

Ed Piacentino

Publication Year: 2013

Since its inception in the early 1830s, southern frontier humor (also known as the humor of the Old Southwest) has had enduring appeal. The onset of the new millennium precipitated an impressive rejuvenation of scholarly interest. Beyond Southern Frontier Humor: Prospects and Possibilities represents the next step in this revival, providing a series of essays with fresh perspectives and contexts.

First the book shows the importance of Henry Junius Nott, a writer virtually unknown and forgotten who mined many of the principal subjects, themes, tropes, and character types associated with southern frontier humor, followed by an essay addressing how this humor genre and its ideological impact helped to stimulate a national cultural revolution. Several essays focus on the genre's legacy to the post-Civil War era, exploring intersections between southern frontier humor and southern local color writers--Joel Chandler Harris, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Sherwood Bonner. Mark Twain's African American dialect piece "A True Story," though employing some of the conventions of southern frontier humor, is reexamined as a transitional text, showing his shift to broader concerns, particularly in race portraiture.

Essays also examine the evolution of the trickster from the Jack Tales to Hooper's Simon Suggs to similar mountebanks in novels of John Kennedy Toole, Mark Childress, and Clyde Edgerton and transnational contexts, the latter exploring parallels between southern frontier humor and the Jamaican Anansi tales. Finally, the genre is situated contextually, using contemporary critical discourses, which are applied to G. W. Harris's Sut Lovingood and to various frontier hunting stories.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-11

Since its inception in the early 1830s, the humor of the Old South or Old Southwest has attracted the curiosity of readers, and since the 1930s, the investigative and critical efforts of scholars as well. In the nearly one hundred eighty years since the first southern...

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pp. 3-17

Southern frontier humor, which eme rged in the 1830s primarily in the lower South and the then Southwest, enjoyed popularity from its inception through the period of the Civil War, though its influence on later American writers and forms of popular culture would...

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Henry Junius Nott and the Roots of Southern Frontier Humor

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pp. 18-41

When one thinks of the analogues and antecedents of antebellum southern humor, the usual candidates are: Ebenezer Cook’s comical satire, The Sot-weed Factor; or a Voyage to Maryland (1708), William Byrd II’s Dividing Line histories, Dr. Alexander...

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Hysterical Power: Frontier Humor and Genres of Cultural Conquest

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pp. 42-59

In this passage from the Nashville series of Crocke tt almanacs, Davy Crockett’s definition of the person who is not scorned by Kentuckians as a “flunk and a sneak” is less narrow than a reader familiar with the machismo of southwestern humor might expect. An inability...

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“Bawn in a Brier-patch” and Frontier Bred: Joel Chandler Harris’s Debt to the Humor of the Old South

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pp. 60-85

Joel Chandler Harris’s most well known character, Uncle Remus, has been and continues to be a critically polarizing figure in American literature, and the Uncle Remus collections have dominated scholarly attention to Harris’s work. While Alice Walker condemns...

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From Swamp Doctor to Conjure Woman: Exploring “Science” and Race in Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 86-103

In his collection of dialect tales published in The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales, Charles Chesnutt challenges a wide range of social and scientific prescriptions of racial difference that pervaded the culture surrounding the Civil War. Working against the popular...

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Sherwood Bonner and the Postbellum Legacy of Southwestern Humor

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pp. 104-130

This essay betrays traditional expectations for southwestern humor in two signal ways: It focuses on four stories written, not in the antebellum period, but in the postbellum one—all authored by a woman. My purpose is not to argue with the useful and largely accurate...

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“I wa’ n’t bawn in de mash to be fool’ by trash!”: Mark Twain’s “A True Story” and the Culmination of Southern Frontier Humor

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pp. 131-153

Mark Twain’s stories have bee n anthologized frequently in collections of Southwest humor. Cohen and Dillingham included several sketches by Twain in the 1964 and 1975 editions of their foundational anthology, Humor of the Old Southwest. In...

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Morphing Once Again: From Jack to Simon Suggs to Aunt Lucille

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pp. 154-170

Tricksters resemble shit in that they elicit hilarity or gravity, sometimes both. They are both ubiquitous.1 Neither is welcome in polite company. One indication that the characters Jack, found in oral tales developed in the hills and hollows of Appalachia, Johnson...

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Anancy’s Web/Sut’s Stratagems: Humor, Race, and Trickery in Jamaica and the Old Southwest

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pp. 171-192

Over the centuries, trickster tales and stories have been generated in most parts of the world, and many of them found their way to North America via the slave ships that supported the plantation economy of the New World but also disseminated the people of the...

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Postmodern Humor ante Litteram: Self-Reflexivity, Incongruity, and Dialect in George Washington Harris’s Yarns Spun

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pp. 193-209

When Milton Ricke ls wrote, in his 1959 essay on George Washington Harris’s imagery, that among the humorists of the Old Southwest, “Harris was among the least interesting in the variety of his plots, but at the same time the most intense in his vision...

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The Real Big Kill: Authenticity, Ecology, and Narrative in Southern Frontier Humor

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pp. 210-224

Once of the richest traditions within the genre of Old Southwest humor is the embellished story of the hunt, emphasizing the resourcefulness, tenacity, and self-reliance of the nineteenth-century American frontiersman. In recounting these stories, southern humorists...


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pp. 225-227


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pp. 229-237

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039389
E-ISBN-10: 1621039382
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037689

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 823014166
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Southern Frontier Humor

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Subject Headings

  • American wit and humor -- Southwest, Old -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Southwest, Old -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Southern States -- History and criticism
  • Southwest, Old -- Humor.
  • Southern States -- Humor.
  • Southwest, Old -- In literature.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
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