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Mythology in Music: The Balladof LorettaLynn Ruth A. Banes Well, I was borned a Coal Miner's Daughter In a Cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler (Loretta Lynn) Theballad of Loretta Lynn is a legend born through a complex interaction betweentruth and fiction, individual and social history, myth, region, music, urbansociety and folk culture.* The "Coal Miner's Daughter," a popular mythof working-class Southern women which Loretta Lynn has both created and portrayed, may become as pervasive as the myth of the antebellum Southernlady, the belle, Scarlett O'Hara, or the benighted, but beautiful hillbilly,Daisy Mae. Through music and autobiography, the image and realityof Loretta Lynn have become so nearly equated that it is difficult to untanglethe threads of regional and national culture which are so tightly boundin her image. Closely and consistently resembling the married woman portrayedin her lyrics and recordings, Loretta Lynn is a rural Southerner whorepresents the traditional value-orientation of Southern culture through heroriginal compositions and her authentic folk style. Her autobiographical musicand her life story provide important information about the social historyof white, working-class, rural Southern women, and she appeals particularly to a female audience by combining liberated and traditional genderroles in her lyrics. At the same time, she reinforces the American valuesof individualism, patriotism and freedom. The fact that Loretta Lynn's often repeated life history has become the basis of a popular song, a popularfilm and a best-selling autobiography-each entitled Coal Miner's Daughter-indicates the public's receptivity to her portrayal of Southern culture.She has become a contemporary Southern myth. 1 CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 1985, 283-300 284 Ruth A. Banes To say that the Coal Miner's Daughter is a myth is not to say that her history is distorted or her story unreal, or to denigrate Loretta Lynn inany way. To the contrary, cultural symbols take on a power of their own once they have been created, gaining a powerful hold upon individuals and society. Beginning with the romantic plantation South and the evil-haunted South portrayed by abolitioni"sts, mythic visions of Southern culture, people and places have been endless. George Brown Tindall has noted that, despite the variety of Southern myths, the "burden of Southern history is stillcarried in those unavoidable categories set by nineteenth century sectional conflict: the romantic myth of gentility on the one hand and the obverse, if in manv respects similar, abolitionist plantation myth of barbarity on the other:=2 Similarly, C. Vann Woodward notes that Southern myths are "Janus-faced:' presenting both attractive and unattractive countenances: ''The side thev present depends upon which way they are turned and who is manipulating them. The reverse side of Chivalry is Arrogance, and the other sideof Paternalism is Racism. The Plantation myth is similarly coupled with the Poor White myth, the myth of Honor with that of Violence. Graciousness, Harmony, and Hospitality also have less appealing faces. And for Leisure, there is the long-standing counterpart- Laziness .... "3 Originally a product of individuals within particular social historical settings, myths are embellished, strengthened and amplified by the voices of popular culture. As Jack Temple Kirby's Media-Made Dixie reveals, the "Janus face" of Southern mythology continues to be pervasive in popular images of the South. Kirby's chapter titles-the "Embarrassing New South" and the "Grand Old South," the ''Visceral South" and "Dixie Mellow," the "Devilish South" and "Dixie Redux"-name popular twentieth-century versions of the romantic and benighted myths. The Janus-face of Southern mythology is similarly represented in the conflicting dualities which are the essence of the Coal Miner's Daughter: poverty and affluence, traditional and liberated female roles, Appalachia and America. In order to gain some insight into how Janus-faced mythologies become intertwined, it is useful to review several theories of myth and popular culture. Early studies of myth in America, most notably Henry Nash Smith's VirginLand: The American West in Symbol and Myth (1950) and Leo Marx's Machine in the Garden (1964) have inspired scholarship in this field, showing how regional images and symbols can affect national history. They posit literary and poetic definitions of...


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