The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
Other ”). However, this reference to a “clash of cultures” does not reveal the full extent of the division Bush depicts, because in the play, Mud Creek, Kentucky, belongs to another time. As the synopsis further states, The Thacker house is still without indoor plumbing, her sister, Faye, is still engaged to the man she’s been dating for fifteen years, and Evelyn’s mother, Jewell, still hates her. Indeed, everything in Mud Creek, a small mountain community in eastern Kentucky (so small “‘it ain’t even a dot on the map’”) is slow to evolve. The only thing to have changed, it seems, is Evelyn. (“ The Other ”) One notices how the terms related to “still” differ in these two descriptions of the play. In the Emory & Henry promotion, the Thacker family remains rooted (“still living off the mountain in the beautiful countryside”) while their other stasis remains out of their control, a consequence of their poverty. The original synopsis, however, asserts that the lack of change in the homebound Thacker family results from the community’s being “slow to evolve.” In fact, the character description for Jewell Thacker asserts that she “is quite content with life in Mud Creek.” Therefore, symbolic significance of Evelyn’s having earned an advanced degree in biology appears all the more relevant here, as does the name of the community. Evelyn has advanced by crawling out of Mud Creek, Kentucky. She has become a new person, in this play’s terms, in more ways than one. One also notices that each synopsis mentions the lack of indoor plumbing; and, indeed, the fact that the Thacker family relies on an outhouse plays a principal role in the play. We learn that Evelyn’s early attraction to elementary school comes in part from her fascination with the fixtures in the restroom; she confides to O’Malley, “That was the first time I ever saw indoor plumbing. All those sparkling sinks and toilets, everything so clean . Water at my fingertips. I remember thinking, ‘Some day I am going to have all this ’” ( The Other 103). This issue of cleanliness has echoes throughout the play. Further, we see how ill fit O’Malley is for this hard life through her troubles with the outhouse while the family’s matriarch, Jewell, describes the outhouse as a means to define culture. She does so, however, in a cruel and hurtful way, intending to inflict pain and undo whatever privilege Evelyn may have earned. We must remember that an outhouse in itself does not convey negativity. As I have noted in my discussion of Sheila Kay Adams’ story, it provides a leveling setting, as in
Billy Edd Wheeler’s “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back,” a single from his 1964 album Memories of America : “It was in that quiet spot daily cares could be forgot / And it gave the same relief to rich and poor.” The lyrics note further detail of the family heritage of the outhouse and bemoan that it is the imposition of city ordinances and health department mandates that require the little shack’s demolition (Wheeler). Even during the weekend of the Emory & Henry Literary Festival, another presentation, a tenth anniversary staging of Higher Ground , offered a scene, “The Two Seater,” where neighbors err in digging a new outhouse pit too big, so that once the two-seater is occupied, the women sink into the ground, one of them believing that the Rapture has come. In this scene, playwright Robert Gipe has pragmatic Gertie offer a matter-of-fact explanation of the need for the new pit, its failure due to its size, and the absurdity of her neighbor Fannie’s believing that they have been witnessing the Second Coming: GERTIE: It seemed that the new opening was quite a bit bigger than the old one—and the ground on the edge of the pit was not so firm. So the ground gave way, the toilet fell in with us in it. The good thing is the new pit, but the bad thing was climbing out after Frank and Grover removed the roof. (Gipe 11) Gertie finds no shame in the incident, and she also neglects to mention that she and Fannie have symbolically climbed from a “grave,” making no further comment about Fannie’s being the more “spiritual” of the pair. In sum, nothing about these three examples belittles the characters for their reliance on an outhouse because the outhouse serves as part of the setting. Nothing about these three examples is dirty. However, this notion of “dirty” as a concept matters, and it is productive to draw some distinctions in definitions. The term “dirty” serves as an umbrella generality that actually covers three types of humor: the earthy story, the bawdy story, and the dirty story. The earthy story recognizes a commonality of experience and makes no negative comment about it, preserving a matter of-fact notion that people share basic drives, appetites, and experiences that often remind us of our common bond with other animals. The bawdy story recognizes these commonalities but offers a celebration and winking humor about them— bawdy stories tend to rely on a sense of fun and irony. Significantly, a story can be both earthy and bawdy at the same time.
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