The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

76 Chamberlain

Harré calls an “institutionalized discursive process,” with a specific play’s functioning as a speech act. Onto the positioning triad of speaker, speech act, and story line, we can graft another significant triad of playwright, actor/ director, and audience. Each line of a play, each staged action is an act of rhetorical discourse: the playwright and actor together are the speaker while the viewers are both the respondents and, in terms of their responses, the new speaker who repositions the author/actor. Writing/ performing a play becomes a conversational act spoken to a receiving audience even though, at the actual time of performance, that audience’s responses may be silent or limited to a narrow range of story lines, such as laughter or applause. Thus far from being a one-directional enterprise in which a play is performed for a passive group of viewers who simply receive the effects of the action, a performance is a dynamic process. It is a conversation in which the audience, by its responses (in which various members may or may not accept the authority of the narrative), in turn repositions itself as speaker and re constructs the story line with the audience’s own discursive interpretations. How does this admittedly over-simplified (and probably too determinate) account of positioning theory relate to The Other Side of the Mountain and its possible damaging stereotypes? I argue that the flaws of the play— stereotyped characters and situations, psychological incoherence and inconsistency, plot implausibility—work to short-circuit the positioning conversational process that I have just outlined. The result is that the audience is ultimately unable to make new meanings and unable to create sufficient interpretive space to envision new ways of re-constructing the stereotyped narratives. The play ends up over-positioning itself—that is, it allows only one existing story line, in this case the limited, narrow stereotypes, to predominate. We’re back to the “danger of the single story.” The character of Evelyn Thacker provides a good example of this process. If The Other Side of the Mountain is trying to reconstruct or subvert Appalachian stereotypes by using post-graduate-educated Evelyn as a counter to the sort of cheerful-but-violent moonshining backwardness represented by Jackson, then it fails because the necessary chain of discursive repositioning is broken. The play begins with Evelyn defining herself as everything her rural eastern Kentucky family is not: unlike her family and Jackson, she is a high school and college graduate; unlike Jewell and Faye, she is financially stable; unlike Faye and Vernon, she has a consummated adult relationship;

unlike every other Mud Creek resident we meet, she is not defined by any obvious Appalachian cultural markers, stereotyped or otherwise (for instance, she has lost her accent and her mountain grammar). Thus, her initial position is that of “not-Appalachian.” She is not a repositioning of common social story lines about rural Appalachians—that is, she’s not a new construct of “Appalachian” that might redefine or resist the dominant cultural narratives. Instead, she is an erasure of Appalachia, indistinguishable from almost any white suburban American from anywhere. She has so successfully shed her mountain identity that her lover O’Malley is shocked to learn of Evelyn’s early life and family; she sees no trace of them in the woman Evelyn has become. So, on one level, the character of Evelyn does not serve to redefine a new Appalachian narrative; she just eliminates Appalachia entirely. The conversation is over; the audience has no new position to take. But, one might ask, doesn’t the play complicate this erasure? As the story progresses, Evelyn gradually resumes some Appalachian identity markers, until her confrontation with O’Malley when she defiantly asserts her position and her identity as a Mud Creek native: “You see all this , O’Malley? The mountains and the trees and the chickens and the outhouse? This is the truth. This is where I come from” (Bush 82). She continues, “I didn’t tell you about all this [. . .] because I was ashamed of it. Right or wrong, that’s how I felt. But now you know the truth. This is who I am and y’know what? I can live with that. Now you have to decide if you can. So, do you want me or not?” (Bush 83). One might be tempted to read this exchange as a positive assertion of an Appalachian identity. Yet in many ways, this scene returns us to the “single story” Appalachian narrative of shame and backwardness. Evelyn admits to being ashamed, but she never repudiates that shame; she says merely that she accepts that she has an Appalachian history and that the “outhouse” (and all it represents) is a part of her. If we paraphrase her comments to O’Malley, she essentially says no more than, “Okay, yes, I’m one of these filthy hillbillies! I admit it! Can you love me anyway?” The shame is still there and even seems validated, at least by the play—we’re given no sense that she doesn’t have to be ashamed. If we put the play’s narrative stance into words, it comes across as something like, “Who wouldn’t be ashamed? But poor things, they can’t help it, and look, Evelyn had managed to overcome these handicaps, and now she is indistinguishable from any non-Appalachian. Not even her lover can tell where she is from.” The ending scene again closes off any reconstructive

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