Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 12: No 2) >> Folk and Fairy Tale Elements in Guy Rivers >> Page 9

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 9

Secondary Scholarship | 2004
Transcription Because the United States is a fairly young nation, many critics have seen its
traditions as illegitimate, or as simply borrowed from other cultures; but in his
book The Voice of the Folk: Folklore and American Literary Theory, Gene
Bluestein argues that the customs and stories of the United States are equally as
significant and rich as those from other nations. He explains that many critics
have assumed that "the United States was brought into existence under
circumstances that denied it the period of gestation necessary for the creation of a
mature and richly textured culture"; however, he points to Constance Rourke's
argument that a "nation's literature is truly national and legitimately its own when
it arises from the folklore of its people," and that "America had its own tradition,
unique in its development and rich enough to control and color the flow of formal
art which issued from it."1 Bluestein writes:
Folklore exposes the deepest level of national traits and values; it is an
anonymous tradition rooted in oral story telling and is passed down from person
to person until the layers of truth and fiction become one, indistinguishable from
each other. Popular art exists on a more conscious level, often utilizing folk
themes but easily recognizable as the work of a particular individual. [Rourke]
saw more clearly than any other critic the peculiar tendency in America for folk
and popular traditions to merge rather than to exist separately in isolated areas,
as is often the case in Europe.2
Several types of characters in American literature embody various time
periods and characteristics of America. Two of these figures are the Yankee and
the Backwoodsman. In Guy Rivers, Jared Bunce and Mark Forrester conform to
these archetypes: they are the characters of American folklore. In Inheriting the
Revolution: The First Generation of Americans, Joyce Appleby acknowledges the
importance of the Yankee figure in American folklore. Northerners often travel to
the Southern states in the winter in order to find buyers for the wares that were
produced in the more industrious northern states. She explains that "a surprising
number of those born in the first decades after the Revolution roamed the country
in their youth. Thousands of Northerners turned peddler in the winter months."3
The custom she describes included even Bronson Alcott, and was so common that
it became a part of American folklore. The figure of the Yankee is "easily
identified as the peddler, a lone, shrewd figure who had already become more than
regional, taking on aspects of myth and fantasy." The image of the Yankee came
about through various means, but "it was an image fashioned, as it is to this day,

1 Bluestein, Gene, The Voice of the Folk: Folklore and American Literary Theory (Cambridge:
The University of Massachusetts Press, 1972), pp. 66-67.
2 Ibid., p. 71.
Appleby, Joyce, Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 14.