Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Randall Roorda

Abstract

Representations of the Appalachia region in literature, art and pop culture have historically shifted between hyperbolic, colorful caricatures to grotesque, sensationalized, black and white photography. This wide spectrum of depictions continually resonates within the North American psyche due to its shared commonality of Appalachia as the cultural “other.” This othering frequently leaves audiences with a kind of relief that this warped representation of backwards, rural poverty is not their own progressive, present-day reality. Countless artists have exploited the region in order to show the impoverished side of rural Appalachia and spin a failed capitalistic way of life into a romanticized, intentional “return to the frontier.” While these representations are often littered with evidence of economic and environmental devastation, audiences are not educated, or otherwise are not provided enough context on how to identity such signs. Some writers have gone so far as to repeatedly depict Appalachians as aggressive and violent in their primitivism, attributing this to their genealogy in relation to the landscape.

Through analyzing how a selection of insider and outsider works includes or neglects three primary elements crucial to successful cultural representation: compassion, context and complexity, one can begin to broadly define what many Appalachians feel is lacking from their own narrative within pop culture. Something as simple as the angle of a camera can dramatically affect the way a viewer experiences a photograph and its subject. Furthermore, the chosen narrator of a novel can make the difference for a reader between a compassionate portrayal of a region previously unknown to them, and one that enforces the existing stereotype of Appalachia. This dissertation will begin to broach the subject of responsibility in the context of cultural representation, as well as how individual artistic motivations and decisions can have negative, far-reaching consequences for the Appalachian region.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.252