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Reading Trees in Southern Literature
The Southern Quarterly (2006)
  • Matthew Sivils
Trees fulfi ll an important semiotic function within southern literary texts, and through this role serve as nexuses between humans and the natural world of the American South. Because of their ability to assume a wide range of sometimes temporary meanings, it is useful to think of southern literary trees as semiotic bottle trees: arboreal platforms upon which writer’s place semiotic components, or containers. To begin I draw from the work of Patricia Yaeger and Farah Jasmine Griffi n as I examine how southern literary trees are inexplicably connected to the issues of both environmental and racial oppression. Then I briefl y address Eudora Welty’s short story, “Livvie,” and discuss how the literal bottle trees found in Welty’s story serve as a collection of specifi c types of southern literary tree. I end with a close examination of two literary forests that arise from the environment of the southern novel: the dark jungle of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) and the humanized “Woods” of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Ultimately, the trees that grow upon the pages of southern fi ction are temporal, spatial, and spiritual nexuses that tie characters to the land, to each other, and to an ethereal world of outstretched fl owering branches and deep-rooted oppression.
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Copyright The Southern Quarterly 2006.
Citation Information
Matthew Sivils. "Reading Trees in Southern Literature" The Southern Quarterly Vol. 44 Iss. 1 (2006)
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