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Hospitality in Southern Literature
Transcript of Hospitality in Southern Literature
2And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
3And said, My LORD, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
9And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
10And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
Erskine Caldwell Ben Robertson Robertson was a native of South Carolina and graduate of Clemson University with the class of 1923. He is the author of one of the primary texts that we will look at today- Red Hills and Cotton.
He is a prominent Southern writer and war correspondent for PM.
The PM was a liberal daily newspaper published from 1940-1948. Erskine Caldwell was also a corespondent for the PM. He was based in Russia during his stint as a war time correspondent. He is also a Southern writer from Georgia. He is the author of Tobacco Road. P. 66
"We had quantities of food on our table; no matter how hard times were, we always had more than we needed to eat, and even when cotton was down was down to five cents, there was an air of happiness about our boards."
We see the theme of abundance, even in times of need.
"At noon someone would ring the yard bell and three hundred of us would sit down on the benches before the long board tables- three hundred of us would eat old-time dinner. About a hundred chickens would be fried and served on platters, and there would be fried steak, venison, fried fresh pork, whole boiled hams, sugared and spiced, and there would be roasted duck, baked turkey, cold veal, stuffed eggs, and beans, potatoes, roasting ear corn, cheese straws, lemon tarts, and bowls of highly seasoned chowchow pickles and peach preserves made from the wild clingstone peaches that grew on the cotton terraces, and there would be clingstone peach pickles, and blackberry jelly and apple jelly and pound cake, chocolate layer cake, coconut layer cake, marble cake, banana layer cake, carmel layer cake, sponge cake, angel-food cake, apple pie, peach pie, hucle-berry pie, ambrosia, boiled frozen custard... Those who drank did so behind the barn."
Three hudred people! This shows that everyone was welcome.
Once again, we see an abundance of food. p. 14
"The library of early American knowledge was the principal theme of my kinfolks conversation- the passing on from one generation to the next of histories, codes of laws, prophesies, some memorized songs and proverbs, and letters. Biblical, Purtian, Southern, it was a variation on a single driving constant theme, rich and homely and timeless, of backwoods people trying in the backwoods to set up a certain sort of life."
The young and old are both included.
They are intentional about community. p. 184
"One of the happiest experiences of our lives, when we were growing up, was to visit Bill in his one-room house beyond the spring branch... He was as fond of us as we were of him, and he would twang the bango and sing to us by the hour- ballads, gamblings songs, blues songs, hymns like "Rock of the Ages, Cleft for Me."
They sang as a form of bonding.
It was a happy experience. p. 291
"Our singing meetings are organized according to a pattern that our forefathers learned in early politics: each of our townships has a singing convention, and each county has a convention formed of the township conventions, and there is a state convention formed of the county conventions."
They met in an organized fashion.
They incorporated singing. p. 125
"A stranger came once from Texas to a house of one of these kinfolks and announced to one of our great-uncles that he was a brother-in-law...
(he briefly tests him)
Our great uncle shouted with wild laughter. "You are my brother-in-law all right," said he. Then reaching into the meal bin he pulled out a jug. "Help yourself, brother," he said. "Just help yourself."
Even though the Texan is tested, he is eventually welcomed with opened arms.
"What's mine is yours."
"For days and weeks they would travel up and down the valley, visiting kinfolks and staying away from home."
They are welcome in the homes of kinfolks for the night.
There are no specifics in this passage, but if they chose to do this, then we can assume they were not treated poorly. p.32
"Half way across the yard Jeeter suddenly broke into a terrific plunge
that landed him upon the sack of turnips almost as quickly as the bat of an eye."
He has stolen the turnips from the visitor, Lov, who happens to be his son-in-law. p. 43
"Ada and Ellie May jerked at Jeeter's overalls pockets,
extracting the remaining turnips in desperate hurry. Jeeter
tossed three of the smallest ones on the porch in the direction
of the door. The grandmother fell on her knees and clutched
them hungrily against her stomach, while she munched the
vegetable with her toothless gums."
When there is food to share, it is not done freely.
There is no reverence for the food- it is simply tossed on the ground.
"The grandmother had been wide awake all the time,
but no one had said anything to her, and she did not try
to tell Bessie that Dude was in her bed. No one
ever said anything to her, exept to tell her
to get out of the way, or to stop eating
the bread and the meat.
We see that not everyone is included
in the conversation. p. 141
"At some of the houses Jeeter went to, the people at first said they needed wood,
but after they had asked him how much he wanted for it they were suspicious.
Jeeter told them he was asking only a dollar, and then they asked him if he were
selling split pine at that small price. He had to explain that it was blackjack,
and not even sawn into stove length. The next thing he knew the door was slammed
in his face, and he had to go to the next house and try again."
The stranger is nothing special.
The stranger is there for profit. p. 148
"The men here is going to wear Bessie out, running her from one
bed to another all night long. I don't reckon I'll ever come to this
kind of hotel again. I can't get no peace and sleep."
This is a foil to the mention of a nice bed and good nights sleep in The Odyssey.
The stranger is literally prostituted. p. 155
"The cheese and crackers that had been brought back from Augusta provided barely enough
of a meal for one or two persons; and as he would not leave the porch, there would be more
for her and Ellie May. It did not matter about the grandmother, because she was going to
be given the cheese rinds and cracker crumbs that were left when they had finished."
The guests are neglected.
There is no abundance.
"It's just the old devil who's always hounding
me to do a little something bad. But I ain't
going to do it. I want to go to heaven when I die."
They talk of the devil as much as God. Works Cited:
Caldwell, Erskine. Tobacco Road. Beehive Press: Boston, 1974.
Korges, James. Erskine Caldwell. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1969.
New International Version (NIV) Bible.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Abraham Entertaining the Angels, 1656, etching and drypoint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection 1943.3.7160
Robertson, Ben. Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory. Ryerson Press: New York, 1942.
Tobacco Road (film). Directed by John Ford. Based on Erskine Caldwell's novel. Screenplay written by Nunnally Johnson. Charley Grapewin as Lester. Marjorie Rambeau as Bessie Rice.
28 April 2010
Red Hills and Cotton vs. Tobacco Road:
Southern Hospitality Robertson addresses the lack of hospitality in his colleague's book. In Red Hills and Cotton he writes,
"We understand the wobbly warped southeners in Tobacco Road, their decay, curdled like cheese; they have slipped into quicksand, their eyes are the eyes of our flesh, their souls are tired of living.... The South is our South and it must progress. My kinfolks and I are not worn-out, tired Southerners. We are strong men and women, who have worked hard for living all of our lives." (p. 13)