Affiliated Networks


Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Aug 25, 2017.



Latest Activity

Susan True shared Rob Neufeld's discussion on Facebook
Sep 24
Susan True replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone
"Soulfully beautiful."
Sep 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone

Act 5, Scene 1: Irene’s Twilight Zone See whole poem, "The Main Show," and index of scenes.  (Spotlight opens on the lobby of the theater.  Characters who remain in the lobby enter the theater, which remains dark.  Joan the nurse tells the tour guide to also go in, and the narrator hangs back awhile.) Joan: Go ahead in. I’ll stay with my patient.Anyway, this is a family…See More
Sep 24
Phillip Elliott shared their photo on Facebook
Sep 5
Connie Regan-Blake posted events
Aug 28
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event

Julia Nunnally Duncan at Little Switzerland Books and Beans

August 30, 2019 from 3pm to 6pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be a featured author at Little Switzerland Books and Beans on Friday, August 30, from 3-5. A book signing will follow. Julia will read from her latest books A Neighborhood Changes, A Part of Me, and A Place That Was Home.See More
Aug 26
Phillip Elliott commented on Phillip Elliott's album

Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock

"The introduction of my new publication, Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock will be launched on Sept 14 2019 at 1:30 PM at the Henderson County Court House 500 Main Street. A talk and a brief slide show follows with refreshments afterward. …"
Aug 23
Phillip Elliott posted photos
Aug 23
Nancy Werking Poling posted an event

Nancy Werking Poling at Black Mountain Library

June 15, 2019 from 3pm to 4pm
Can women rescue the planet from ecological disaster?Nancy Werking Poling will launch her new novel, WHILE EARTH STILL SPEAKS, set in WNC. She'll tell the stories behind the story: How did Mary (more crone than virgin) get into the narrative? And Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth?See More
Jun 10
Caroline McIntyre posted events
Apr 29
Rob Neufeld updated their profile
Apr 13
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Flat Rock history via a road

Travelling back in time on a Flat Rock roadby Rob Neufeld             If you walk the one mile length of North Highland Lake Road in Flat Rock, you step nearly 200 years into the past.            At the east end, the 21st century reigns.  Fronting six-lane Spartanburg Highway, a super-Ingles sits above a bog; and a CVS store faces an Octopus Garden smoke shop, a chiropractor, a cell phone provider, and a six-lane avenue to I-26 a mile away .            Neither Ingles nor CVS carries the big…See More
Apr 8

Why are they mute?  A look at Appalachian characters

by Rob Neufeld


We need to heed unheard people.  But does that include characters without speaking parts in works of fiction?

Vicki Sigmon Collins, an Appalachian Culture Studies teacher at the University of South Carolina Aiken, seeks to show that mute lives matter in her new book, “The Silent Appalachian: Wordless Mountaineers in Fiction, Film and Television” (McFarland).

She names 78 notably silent characters, and explores their stories in essays, which she groups into 16 categories of speechlessness.


They can’t speak


“The Silent Appalachian” leads off with autism, and with one of the most noteworthy mutes in recent literature, “Stump” Hall, a 13-year-old boy in Wiley Cash’s 2012 novel, “A Land More Kind than Home.”

Pastor Chambliss, a snake-handling minister to whom Stump’s mother Julie has gravitated, quotes Matthew 9:33: “And when the demons had been driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.”  He’s trying to persuade Julie “that demons have bound Stump’s tongue, and the only way to loosen it is through exorcism,” Collins relates.

When Chambliss finally has his way with Stump, Stump’s younger brother, Jess, witnesses the crime.

Collins makes a point of dignifying the belief in evil spirits while, at the same time, condemning Preacher Chambliss’ sinful usage of it.  She then devotes a few paragraphs to exposing “false teachers who ‘hide behind the cloth.’”

It isn’t until the end of the essay that Collins returns to the theme of muteness, which she discusses only in terms of the plot—except for this one suggestive line: “Sadly, it is Jess Hall who could save his brother’s life, but he decides to remain silent.”

Stump’s muteness is interesting as a symbol of the kind that Jess suffers, bearing witness to exploitation.

Joining Stump in Collins’ autism section are: Jaxon MacKenzie, the12-year-old narrator of Mary Calhoun Brown’s YA novel, “There Are No Words”; Lonnie, the banjo-playing boy in James Dickey’s “Deliverance”; Rain Man (with Cincinnati qualifying as Appalachian); and Aunt Jo in Linda Scott DeRosier’s memoir, “Creeker.”


Silent fright


As a girl, Aunt Jo, lacking the power of accusation, had been raped.  Collins compares her to Philomela, victim of King Tereus of Thrace, who’d cut out her tongue to stifle testimony.

Collins then quotes Elissa Marder’s essay, “Disarticulated Voices: Feminism and Philomena,” published in “Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.”

In the Philomena myth, Marder wrote, the text “establishes a relationship between the experience of violation and access to language.”

Collins has found something very powerful in the notion of silence, its reverse-imaging of assault; and follows the concept wherever it will go.

The book’s second section is about hydrocephalics, recalling Juney, the benign hanger-on at a crumbling estate in Lee Smith’s novel, “On Agate Hill.”

The next section turns to people whose brain injuries prevent articulation, such as Celestine Aaron in Dot Jackson’s novel, “Refuge.”  Celestine had been damaged by oxygen deprivation when her haughty Bostonian mother had accidentally given birth to her in a toilet bowl.

That Bostonian reference is significant.  Seneca Steele, the novel’s narrator, had arrived at the Aaron household after fleeing her husband and his aristocratic Charleston society.  But it was hardly an escape, for Sen discovers that an aristocrat has gotten control of her mountain family.

Collins has us hearing silent screaming.  But she allows distortion into her big picture. 

The literature she cites applies romantic notions to the mute condition, and Collins sometimes embraces the sentiments.

For instance, in certain stories, handicapped people possess the powers of healing and premonition.  That’s poignant fiction, not social science, but Collins affirms the wish.

A realistic as well as humanistic presentation of people with exceptional conditions can be found in Andrew Solomon’s non-fiction masterwork, “Far from the Tree.”)

Collins’ role as champion of Appalachians also leads to the division of characters into those to be protected and those to be protected from—one seemingly justifiable step away from stock characterization.


An impressive survey


As promised, Collins includes TV and movie figures in her survey, such as Holly from “The Waltons”; Nell from “Nell”; and Sally Swanger, the woman in the movie version of Charles Frazer’s “Cold Mountain” who’d gone silent after seeing home guardsmen murder her family.

One of the interesting insights that comes from Collins’ book is seeing which authors get multiple entries, and therefore which ones can be said to like mutes in their fiction.

Ron Rash, Lee Smith, Robert Morgan, and Sharyn McCrumb are in this class. 

So is Vicki Lane, who made a mute person, Cletus, her story-prompting murder victim in her debut novel, “Signs in the Blood.” 

In her discussion of this book, Collins once again digresses from her theme, recaps the plot, and discourses on favorite Appalachian studies topics.  In this, she is not unlike Lane, who has her sleuth, Elizabeth Goodweather, encounter several regional tropes—a Holiness church, a cultish retreat, a militia group, a buried infant—in her pursuit of clues.

An appreciation of “The Silent Appalachian” rests on Collins’ passion and extensive reading.  I am glad to see that her book includes some recent fictional stand-outs: “Bloodroot” by Amy Greene; and Charles Dodd White’s “Sinners of Sanction County,” for instance.


Rob Neufeld writes the weekly book feature for the Sunday Citizen-Times.  He is the author and editor of six books, and the publisher of the website, “The Read on WNC.”   He can be reached at and 505-1973.  Follow him @WNC_chronicler.

Views: 60

Reply to This

© 2019   Created by Rob Neufeld.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service