Saturday, August 08, 2009

Welty on the oral tradition

Also from the Paris Review interviews, Eudora Welty comments on the strength of the oral tradition in southern writing:

Southerners do have - they've inherited - a narrative sense of human destiny... A reunion is everybody remembering together - remembering and relating when their people were born and what happened in their lives, what that made happen to their children, and how it was that they died. There's someone to remember a man's whole life, every bit of the way along... In New York... you don't get that sense of a continuous narrative line. You never see the full circle. But in the South, where people don't move about as much, even now, and where they once hardly ever moved away at all, the pattern of life was always right there.

I've noticed before, and have probably commented on here at some time, the similarity between this southern oral tradition and the oral tradition of the travelling people from where I come from, in central and northern Scotland, and wondered why that might be. I think Welty hits on it here: although, in lifestyles, the static American Southerner is the polar opposite of the old travellers from Scotland who spent their lives moving from place to place, what they have in common is this extraordinary sense of community and, especially, of family. And so the Scots travellers used the oral tradition and their folk tales as a means of recording their family history: those stories became the history, and the oral tradition that emerged as a result became essential to their way of life. So it is that language, the use of words, the rhythm of speech is so important to both the southerners and the travellers. United by the use of language in the service of community.

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