American Myth Today: 0 Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Language of Mythic Space

Cline, John, Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia

The southern portion of the United States has long existed as a set of parallel-though not necessarily congruent-planes. On one level, the South possesses a concrete, distinctive contingent of historical fact. On the other level, the South exists as an entity created in large part by its own mediated representations. These two modes at times meander into the other, and the (perhaps arbitrarily) separate planes tend to contradict themselves. Even what constitutes the "South" is often up for argument, and a casual perusal of the ongoing historiographical debates regarding the region-during any era-reveals an ever-increasing complex of evidence that threatens to break down any stable idea of the South completely. Perhaps thankfully then this project is not concerned with the "real" South. Instead, filtering discussion through the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, I hope to explicate the role of the South as an imaginary plane in American culture. This plane, though it owes its raw source material to physical and historical reality, operates as a space of representation. In other words, this project begins with the concept of the "South," which plays itself out on a plane of representation. This is not altogether a different idea than the one that has been commonly applied to the American West. From dime novels to films, the West has also occupied the dual role of a real place and an imaginary one. Monument Valley may have a minimal role in the history of American westward expansion, but it has left its indelible mark on the idea of the West through John Ford's films. So too the South in films, books, and songs that were created by this imagined space, and created it in turn.

MA (Master of Arts)

Originally published on the XRoads site for the UVA American Studies program. Years range from 1995-2005. Content is captured at the level of functionality available on the date of capture.

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