This issue contains seven essays, all extremely diverse in subject matter. From Susanna Ashton’s essay about Booker T. Washington’s use of language to Catherine Himmelwright’s argument about Kingsolver borrowing from both the Western and the Native American myths, this issue’s articles show the interplay between great Southern writers and the historical period in which they wrote.
Himmelwright’s essay was the most enjoyable to read. She proves her argument – that The Bean Trees’ female protagonist, Taylor, initially pursues the stereotypically male Western adventure and then latches onto Native American spirituality – with specific, compelling, textual examples. By combining the two myths, Himmelwright concludes that “Kingsolver has developed a new western archetype, a hero who is both mother and adventurer.” This essay did what any good critical essay will do: it sent me searching for the book to find more evidence for – or possibly against – Himmelwright’s interpretation.
The Southern Literary Journal offers three-in-one for each of the four literary reviews, since each writer reviews three books – usually related to one another thematically – at a time. Lucy Ferris gives an overall good review to each of the three recent books of scholarship on Robert Penn Warren; H. Collin Messer applauds three books about 19th century southern humor while at the same time criticizing them for ignoring that century’s tragic race relations; Linda Wagner-Martin recommends the best uses for the three very different books on Faulkner; and Douglass Mitchell reviews books about Madison Jones, Shelby Foote, and Cormac McCarthy, ranking the latter book (The Pastoral Vision of Cormac McCarthy) as “by far the most theoretically informed.”
On the whole, this issue proves The Southern Literary Journal does a fine job of keeping the reader aware of current criticism of and books on Southern writers and writing.