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ERIN HOULIHAN WEDEHASE Wake Technical Community College As Others See Us: Dismantling Stereotypes of Appalachian Class Systems in Sarah Barnwell Elliott’s The Durket Sperret IN 1904, HARPER’S MONTHLY MAGAZINE. PUBLISHED AN ESSAY ABOUT Appalachia’sfolkmusic,explainingthatthis“peculiar”musiccomesfrom the mountaineer who “is fond of turning the joke on himself. He makes fun of his own poverty, his own shiftlessness, his ignorance, his hard luck, and his crimes” (Miles 118). The impoverished mountaineer is a character unique to Appalachian literature, but the stereotype of the rural poor abounds throughout nineteenth-century regionalism. The lower-class figure is so pervasive in regionalist texts that scholars often call a character “regional” when they really mean “working class” (Palmer 9). If critics do see multiple classes in regions, they often assume those groups to be categorically fixed. According to Stephanie Foote, late nineteenth-century regionalist literature advocated “an idealized rural life, in which traditional virtues always obtained, and in which its citizens knew their place, and knew the place of their compatriots” (29, emphasis added). Assuming that regional characters are either homogeneously impoverished or fixed in their class categories, scholars mistakenly read the genre as void of class conflict, resulting in little scholarly attention to regional class systems (Dainotto 25). ThroughanalysisofSarahBarnwellElliott’snovelTheDurketSperret (1898), this article calls for renewed attention to the intricacies of class in regional spaces, especially within the context of Appalachian literature. Contemporary Appalachian studies scholars such as Harry M. Caudill, Dwight Billings, Kathleen Blee, and Henry Shapiro are working to establish more nuanced understandings of Appalachia’s complex economies, but Elliott’s text problematized reductive visions of class in Appalachiaasearlyasthenineteenthcentury.Unlikeotherlocal colorists from this era who ignored the relative and mutable nature of local class systems,Elliottdistinguishedherselfbyrevealingregionalsocioeconomic ambiguity. Even though her novel focuses on destabilizing monolithic 560 Erin Houlihan Wedehase stereotypes about Appalachian economies, recovery of her writing could benefit all scholars who seek a deeper understanding of regional economies. The text reminds its readers that one’s geographic placement is not a reliable indicator of class status since humans are relatively mobile. Moreover, Elliott’s novel shows that we cannot assume that regions are isolated from economic development. My analysis of The Durket Sperret focuses on the characters’ many physical relocations that render their class status unclear and expose the unsettled social groupings of Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains. As opposed to universal poverty or the stringent class divides turn-of-thecentury readers expected to see, social standings in the novel become unfixed when the characters travel. The Durket Sperret centers on the movement of Hannah Warren, a young girl whose family has fallen on hard times after her father’s death. Despite living in poverty, Hannah’s grandmother refuses to let the family forget its elite heritage and demands that Hannah marry well. Hannah thwarts her grandmother’s agenda by leaving home. This mobility illustrates her independence, but more importantly, establishes the countryside as a site of economic ambiguity by altering how others view Hannah’s social status and by revisingherviewofothercharacters’socioeconomicpositions.Hannah’s first major relocation occurs when she treks from her home in the Lost Cove to the university town of Sewanee, where she peddles goods for financial survival so she will not have to marry the affluent but cruel and violentSiDurket. In Sewanee, she also meets the wealthy AgnesWelling and Max Dudley, two university residents who treat Hannah as an experiment in the civilization of the lower classes. As the novel progresses, Hannah ventures between the two spaces multiple times, journeys outside of her family’s cove to a funeral, and meanders through Sewanee with Agnes’s followers. While spatial positioning shapes a character’s class status, physical mobility ensures that this state will remain in flux. As Hannah says when she is forced to walk with Si, “If there’s a bad place in the road, pick up youns foot an’ cross it quick . . . thar’ ain’t no use in doubtin’—git over” (40). Social and physical mobility collide in Elliott’s novel when characters relocate to improve bad financial situations. 561 As Others See Us Elliott’s Varied Socioeconomic Positions Despite her masterful depictions of Appalachia’s multiple classes, Elliott’s work still...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 559-580
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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