- Oral Narrative / Folklore Essay
Guest Editor's Note: "Angus McGregor," the poem on page 50, is in the U.Va. papers. According to a handwritten note by his mother, Helen Pancake, the poem was written while Breece was a senior in high school in 1970 and submitted to his teacher for a contest. However, the teacher, doubting the poem's authorship, did not enter it into the competition. Mrs. Pancake stated that Breece was crushed by that event.
The title of the following piece, "Oral Narrative/Folklore," has been supplied. The essay is untitled in the W.V.U. papers. The piece has also been truncated to include only the first segment of a long academic essay showing Breece's interest in folk narrative and folkways. This essay was probably written as a course assignment during his years at the University of Virginia.
Kenneth Burke maintains mankind's literature—novel to proverb—is one large lesson on how to live or not live (Burke, 1957: 253). Certainly this is true of Aesop's fables where a moral or application is tacked neatly to the end of each tale, but the task of finding applications in oral narrative is much more difficult. With oral narrative, the application is implied rather than stated outright. This point has been the justification for literary criticism since Aristotle, and if the epics of Homer, which are rooted in oral tradition, are grist for the critic's mill, then the same should hold true for modern oral narratives.
In the four narratives to follow, an overt theme of authority or law serves the common purpose—to entertain. But beneath that purpose, there exists a secondary one which J.L. Fischer divides into two categories of psychological and sociological functions. Fischer gives three psychological levels of purpose; the cognitive attempt to explain one's existence in relationship to society, the affective catharsis to inspire social conformity, and the instructive purpose to persuade desirable social action. Yet in the sociological functions, Fischer dollops in elements from the psychological to explain the folk tale as a sort of guide-post for living (Burke, 1957: 254). For most purposes it would seem that the function as a whole may be looked upon as sociopsychological with distinctions made wherever necessary. [End Page 52]
If oral narrative contains this function as a control mechanism, then it should also follow that some application exists within the narrative as subtle implication. If the application exists, it can be brought critically to the fore and stated in simple terms as a moral theme. This theme should also reflect not only the anxieties and needs of the individual, but those of the individual's "immediate" and "intermediate" culture as well.
By "immediate" culture I mean only those aspects of living daily within a limited area and culture of a small town, or even a circle of friends. By "intermediate" culture I mean the larger culture which still has great influence on the individual while existing on a plane somewhat higher than daily living. What I call immediate culture is the surroundings which inspire oral narrative. This is not only Cabell County, West Virginia, a geographic location, but is also a world in which characters, actions and places exist as material for oral expression of a controlling nature. Nor is the intermediate limited to Central Appalachia, but is limited to the types of tales from that region, and to a greater degree those found in print. Therefore, both oral narration and the traditional tale must both exist in a common world of sociopsychological control, sharing the same basic principles of construction, theme and purpose. It is the aim of this paper to expose this common world of sociopsychological control by examining the four following oral narratives and their relationships to traditional tales of the region.
Narration I Fred F.
Age: 75 Ethnic Group: White Occupation: Laborer
"...an' I come home from nightshift, an' there's a truck, Ford truck, sittin' on the side of the road, an' I didn't suspicion nothin', but by Jove, they's up to the barn a-stealin' my chickens. [laughter] [wife: "an' if he'd of...