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Mythic Regionalism

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Mythic Regionalism

Created by Andrew Heil




            According to R. Douglas Francis, “mythic regionalism” is a way to look at regionalism wherein various regions are determined more by their presentation in the mind by art and literature then by physical or scientific information. Regions are shaped by the creations of artists, poets and writers as much as by researchers and geographers. Robert Kroetsch addresses the issue by saying that people and places don’t have their own identity until their story is told, and the life that such stories present becomes the truth.

            Regionalism itself came into form during the 1920s as a motion against modernization and such ideas as “urbanization, industrialization, [and the] standardization of mass culture” (Cassidy 228). While the contemporary avant-garde attempted to reform the current high culture, regionalists aspired to do the same from an opposing point of view. The regionalist sought for an essential America to be found in nature or in the common mythology, attempting to show, through their work, the envisaged beauty and firmness of regional life.

William Faulkner

William Faulkner



            The South during the modernist period was intellectually split between two different types of regionalism. The first was for a New South, which presented idealized versions of a golden age in the South’s past and another golden age to come, which would bring with it reassurances that the South’s romantic antebellum memories would be preserved and revered instead of destroyed. The New South idealists worked towards utilizing advances in technology and new industrial processes to revitalize the South and reenforce their version of its glory. In contrast to this, the Southern Agrarians thought that the best way for the South to retain its unique culture would be to return to subsistence agriculture and take pride in avoiding the innovations and constructs of modernism. One of the foremost examples of Southern Agrarian thought can be seen in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition; produced by a group identifying themselves as “Twelve Southerners,” the essays covered a large number of topics, but generally extolled the vague virtues of the equally vague “agrarian life” and denounced the idea of “industrialism.” Both forms of regionalism created views which would influence the South for years to come, and while modernization has come to many cities in the south, the agrarians continue to be a force in Southern life.

           William Faulkner did not specifically adhere to either of these two camps, instead tending to portray the south in his own fantastic, though not idealized, way. His own fictional Yoknapatawpha County serves as a presentation which, while not presenting southerners in a totally positive light, creates a realistic and believable view of the South which has inspired other writers and endured into the present.

           One of William Faulkner’s earliest writings appeared as “The Liar” in his New Orleans Sketches. In this story, Ek, a known liar, tells the story of a witnessed murder so convincingly that he is shot by a man who, thinking that Ek had witnessed his murder, attempted to kill him to cover up his deed. The story reflected the power of stories, and, likely unforeseen by its author, it reflected the idea that the South, or any region, could be described by lies so realistic that they are taken for fact. Ek’s story embodies the power of Mythic Regionalism.




John Steinbeck

         Popular novelist John E Steinbeck stood well with in this tradition. His sense of man's mythopoeic purpose in remaking the earth was deeply rooted in a sense of place. He imaged mythic regionalism most strikingly in his collection of short stories The Long Valley, but addressed concerns of land and home in many of his works. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's greatest novel and a chronicle of the dustbowl refugees, was concerned with the destructiveness of diplacement and the loss of region.

             In recent years, the fiction of Willa Cather has begun to be appreciated, and though she is not always considered a modernist, her writings between 1906 and 1947 created a memorable and influential picture of the American West. In her series of “Nebraska” novels, such as O Pioneers!, Mr. Antonia, and A Lost Lady, Cather presented a territory in which the land seemed vastly important to its inhabitants, in some cases appearing to overwhelm and overshadow human society (Chabot 52). While Cather wrote about average people, the inflated rhetoric in her novels shows her disillusionment with the American society of the early twentieth century. Her memories of a childhood in Nebraska were used to create stories which offered recourse from the cities and other modern conceptions which Cather criticized. The idealization of Cather’s West from what she saw as a past ideal showed a view of her enhanced, mythic region.


Robert Frost



            Robert Frost’s poetry deals with North-Eastern America in a way which reflects his idealized view of rural life. While Frost’s several attempts to run a successful farm were ultimately fruitless, his interpretation of the land is nonetheless the most readily accepted into the present day.


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Works Cited


    Cassidy, Donna M. “On the Subject of Nativeness: Marsden Hartley and New England Regionalism;” Winterthur Portfolio, Winter 1994, Volume 29, Number 4, p227, 18p. Full Text (http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0084-0416%28199424%2929%3A4%3C227%3A%22TSONM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-V)


    Chabot, C. Barry. Writers for the Nation. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1997.


    Cobb, James. Redefining Southern Culture: Mind & Identity in the Modern South. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1999.


    Francis, R. Douglas. "Regionalism, W.L. Morton, and the Writing of Western Canadian History, 1870-1885;" American Review of Canadian Studies; Winter 2001, Volume 31, Issue 4, p569, 20p.


    Hoffman, Daniel. Faulkner's Country Matters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.


    Kerr, Elizabeth. William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. New York: Fordham University Press, 1985.


    Stead, C. K. Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1986.


    Storm, Eric. “Regionalism in History, 1890-1945: The Cultural Approach;” European History Quarterly; 2003, Volume 33, Number 2, p251, 14p. 


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Comments (4)

Anonymous said

at 12:29 pm on Feb 23, 2007

Convention in Encyclopedia Entries would use less direct quotation. See if you can put more of this in to your own language while still recognizing your sources.

Anonymous said

at 10:31 am on Apr 2, 2007

I wonder if you can connect this to some other things in the Encyclopedia and things we've discussed in class directly. Think of illustrating with Frost's mythos of the New England Farmer, for instance. Or the Southern agrarians. Both obviously regionalist writers. In a different way someone like Willa Cather and the myth of the West.

Anonymous said

at 8:00 pm on Apr 22, 2007

Perhaps you could rewrite - or further specify - the first paragraph under the "South" heading. Could you clarify the distinction between the two camps of southern regionalism? My understanding was that many southern agrarians thought the best way to revive the south's "Golden Age" was in fact to reject industrialization and embrace subsistence agriculture. Both uphold similar versions of the same idealism. Are they linked, or are they distinct from each other?

Anonymous said

at 7:49 am on Apr 25, 2007

Andrew, good basic texts. Any chance for some visuals and some external links sprinkled throughout your text?

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