The front porch evokes cherished memories from across a lifetime for many southernersrecollections of childhood games, courtship, family visits, gossip with neighbors. In this book, Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon offers an original appreciation of the significance of the porch to everyday life in the South. The porch, she reveals, is not a simple place after all, but a stage for many social dramas. She uses literature, folklore, oral histories, and photographs to show how southerners have used the porch to negotiate public and private boundariesin ways so embedded in custom that they often go unrecognized. Her sources include writings by Dorothy Allison, William Faulkner, Ernest Gaines, Gloria Naylor, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lee Smith, as well as oral histories that provide varying racial, gender, class, and regional perspectives. Originally derived from a number of ethnic traditions, the porch evolved in America into something both structurally and culturally unique. In this, the first serious study of the subject, Donlon shows how porch use and porch culture cross ethnic and cultural lines and discusses the transitional quality of the porch spacehow it shifts back and forth, by need and function, between a place that is sometimes interior to the house, sometimes exterior.
|Publisher:||The University of North Carolina Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon is a folklorist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Read an Excerpt
I do not know when I developed a conscious appreciation of southern porch life. But I do know when I developed a conscious appreciation of being altogether southernwhen I relocated from South Louisiana to central Illinois for graduate school. Before my northern trek, I had lived abroad for nearly a year. But Le Mans, France, for all its inscrutable social codes, did not offer some of the perplexing psychological hurdles that Urbana, Illinois, presented. For the first few weeks in the Midwest, I was confronted daily with unfamiliar dilemmas, particularly when it came to greeting others: Do I elicit eye contact with strangers, even though averting one's eyes is the local convention? If I believe I've seen this person before, do I nod and speak, simply nod, or feign lack of recognition until he or she speaks first? Throughout much of the South, it is customary to make eye contact with passersby and then to greet those peopleperhaps several times a day. Hi, how ya doin'? C'est tout. C'est normal.
Thus I began years of drawing generalizations about southern and midwestern cultures. Not all midwesterners, I happily discovered, are hesitant to greet strangers. Nor do all southerners feel compelled to establish eye contact. Indeed, eye contact has been an emotionally charged, sometimes devastating custom throughout southern racial history: African American men of the Jim Crow era were sometimes lynched when whites accused them of greeting the wrong white women at the wrong times and places (see Goldfield). "All Southerners are not alike," Margaret Jones Bolsterli has said, in her memoir Born in the Delta: Reflections on the Making of a Southern White Sensibility. "There are many 'Souths,' but there is something common to all of them not found in other regions of this country, and Southerners tend to think of themselves as having been shaped by 'place'" (4).
There are many Souths, and, while claiming cross-cultural practices as belonging to the South as a whole, this work attempts to recognize complexities and differences within the region. What's more, many different places have shaped southerners, places that can be as varied as southerners themselves. Certainly, though, the house porch endures as a cross-cultural site of real significance throughout the South. Much of my own "southernness," particularly my penchant for greeting, undoubtedly owes something to my grandmother's Louisiana porch. Admittedly, her porch has not been the sole determinant in shaping my social practices. Simply going to the grocery store in much of the South often requires conversation with, at the very least, the cashier. And certainly my being the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister imposed some sense of sociability on my family and me: We were expected to be "on" for others and to "remember who we were." But what my grandmother's house taught me was that by merely occupying a porch, an individual acknowledges her connection to the community at large. At the very least, porch dwellers are compelled to greet passersby, familiar or strange.
Rose Anne St. Romain, a professional storyteller from the central Louisiana town of Mansura, tells the following story about the custom of greeting others from a front porch. When, as a child, Rose Anne made the journey to nearby Plaucheville to spend the night with her grandparents, she would join them in their daily porch ritual. After having put on fresh makeup, Rose Anne's MaMa would sit on her front porch simply to wave to the people of Plaucheville as they drove by. According to Rose Anne, "That porch-sitting ritual happened every afternoon. I thought it immensely boring, but my grandparents were quite dedicated to it. And I always wondered why MaMa would freshen her makeup and lipstick when the people in passing cars were at least 300 yards away!" Her story continues:
I remember spending a lot of time as a kid with MaMa. I spent a lot of time over there. One time she said, "Well, let's go sit on the porch."
I said, "What are we gonna do?"
She looked at me kinda quizzically, and she said, "Well, we're gonna greet passersby."
I said, "And then what are we gonna do?"
She said, "We'll wave."
And she and my grandfather would sit and rock. He had his coffee canhe chewed tobaccoand he would spit, and rock, and wave. And when a car would come, MaMa would kinda crane her neck a little and watch . . . and wave.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Introduction: Why Porches?
1. Setting Terms
2. Living the Everyday Life
3. Setting Boundaries of Race and Class
4. Shaping the Family
5. Fanning the Flames
Conclusion: The Hope of Things to Come
Author Biography: Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon is a folklorist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
What People are Saying About This
Donlon conjures up memories of childhood, court-ship, and neighborly visits. She then explores the implied boundaries hinging on the porch's division of public and private space.Doubletake
A cultural commentary on the porch's role in regional consciousness. Donlon moves beyond material presence of the porch to its social signification."-Choice
An important addition to folklore and southern studies.Journal of American Folklore
Swinging in Place: Porch Life in Southern Culture is a unique study of southern porch culture, combining formal scholarly research and analysis with field interviews and personal history and anecdotes. . . . Swinging in Place succeeds in providing a unique examination of the southern porch as cultural phenomenon. The author's complex marriage of the personal with the academic, the textual with the visual, the individual story with that of the collective South, yields a worthy contribution to southern cultural studies.South Central Review
Swinging in Place includes the history and tradition of porches, as well as the author's childhood memories. The Louisiana folklorist also spotlights people who, like herself, are hopeful that we will rediscover the value of porch time in our lives.Southern Living