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21. Southwestern Humor

John M. Grammer

Subject Literature » American Literature

Place United States of America » American South

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631224044.2004.00022.x


Southwestern humor is the name conventionally given to a tradition of prose narrative, composed mainly during the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, set somewhere near the frontier line of the South as it moved from the Appalachian mountains to the Mississippi River and beyond. The characteristic form of this tradition is the humorous sketch, a form reflecting both the modest ambitions of most Southwestern humor and its modest origins, in the magazine or newspaper account. Typically, a Southwestern sketch is a first-person account by an Eastern gentleman who has entered some unsettled district on an errand of business or sport. There he encounters a group of rustic characters whose antics, and particularly whose speech, supply the humor: the effort to render the dialect of rural Southerners, usually by a fairly standard and limited repertoire of orthographic tricks, is a nearly infallible identifying mark of Southwestern humor. This fiction has a fairly narrow range of subjects, which are treated over and over: brawling, hunting, sharp trading, violent practical jokes, militia musters, “frolics” (rural dances), and the effort to practice some civilized profession – law, medicine, or school teaching – in an inhospitable environment. The sketches were published in small-town papers, in metropolitan dailies like the St. Louis Reveille and the New Orleans Picayune , and in popular national ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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