American Studies 63
Fall 1997
Preparation Sheet for Discussion of
Mary N. Murfree, "Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove"
    I would like for students in the class to come prepared to discuss this story in considerable detail.  It is an example of a type of story (local color) written and published by the hundreds at the end of the nineteenth century.  So widely were they circulated in such reputable magazines that such stories had a great deal to do with establishing certain stereotypes of the Appalachian region and its people.
    It is one thing to assert in general that local color stories promulgated erroneous and misleading stereotypes, but it is another to observe and understand precisely how they did so.  I want us to analyze this story carefully and in detail in order to understand how such stories represented the people, history and culture of the region.
    Toward that end, please use the following guide to help you read carefully and to preserve your observations (specific quotations and page numbers) to contribute to class discussion.  Print out a copy of this sheet to use to take some notes, and bring it to class with you.

    What specific characteristics are attributed to mountain people?  What about their bodies?  How do they move, talk, act, think, express themselves, relate to each other?   And what are the apparent implications of these "characteristic" attributes and behaviors?

    Taking the people at the dance as a "representative" group of mountaineers, what sort of social/cultural system are we asked to believe exists "characteristically" in the mountains?

    What specific markers in the narrator's language (her own voice) define a boundary of cultural difference between her and her cultural and social system, and that of local mountain people?  Vocabulary? Syntax?  Tone?  Grammar?  Other elements?

    What sort of audience is implied by these and other markers?  That is: what is the audience encouraged to believe about itself in the process of reading the story?


    One might argue that the story operates (dramatically and thematically)  in terms of some fairly pronounced dialectical oppositions (e.g., cultured vs. uncultured or uncouth).  Try to inventory those oppositions as you read the story, and list them for class discussion:

    What might be said of the gender, generational, religious, and cultural politics of the story?

    Mr. Kenyon's peacemaking is apparently presented as something of a paradigmatic "solution" to the problems of mountain people.  What of importance can be said about the paradigm and its relationship to the portrayal of both mountain people and of the audience to which the story is addressed?

    Please also comment on any other aspect(s) of the story you consider important: