Falling Deeper into the Deep South

I’ve continued reading Deep South with a few of Thompson’s key points in mind, such as Theroux’s subjective author bias. Theroux is a privileged white male from New England embarking on a Southern journey. He has little in common with those he comes into contact with throughout the Deep South. However, I believe Theroux is genuine in his writings. He does seek out the poorest areas, but he also exposes the economic downfall of many southern regions which citizens and politicians tend to ignore. I’ve lived in the South all my life. I’ve visited the Carolinas, Alabama, and drove through Mississippi. Yet I didn’t recognize the level of poverty many states’ counties are experiencing. We drive by less-off towns, moving from one destination to another while taking back roads. We may pass a disheveled community, and ponder on the standard of living. But, I doubt we ever stop to wonder how much worse the situation may be in our neighboring states.

I’m certain Theroux’s travel was an eye-opening adventure- the Deep South completely contrasts his New England residency. For example, he’s forced to confront the limited opportunities presented to the young, Southern population: “And then [Reverend Virgin Johnson] made a passionate gesture, flinging up his hand, and he raised his voice in a tone that recalled a preaching voice. ‘Take the kids away from this area and they shine!’” (Theroux 63). The author steps away from racism and the unfortunate circumstances hindering black communities and begins to reflect upon a few gun shows he attended. This particular gathering is fascinating, as it relates to a current, ongoing debate of the 2016 presidential election- gun rights. Theroux seems surprised the gun owners are educated, kind, and welcoming. He consequently debates stereotypes concerning the white, southern male. I would assume he expected to run into redneck Southerners. But, he ends the section stating, “It was my first glimpse of a large gathering of white Southerners, and some observers have commented that White southerners are like an ethnic group, similar to Irish or Italians- “a culturally distinct group” (Theroux 60). Paradoxically, Theroux finds himself the target of indifference several times throughout his trip. To many Southerners, he represents oppression and injustice. In Vicksburg, at a round table, he feels obliged to stand up for his Northern background. Interestingly, preconceived notions have now switched sides: “I personally did not do anything to you. The South seceded. The North responded. All’s well that ends well” (Theroux 110).

I’m looking forward to reading on the rest of his travels!

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2 thoughts on “Falling Deeper into the Deep South

  1. I am intrigued by the different perspectives on Theroux assessment of the South that the blogs represent. I agree with you that most of us who live in metro Atlanta, whether we were born in the South or no, are not likely to travel through impoverished communities in the way Theroux did, so I find that aspect of his book enlightening.

  2. I don’t doubt that his intentions are genuine, or disagree that he brings to light some pretty staggering statistics and facts about the state of poor southern counties and the funding they receive in comparison to foreign aid, but I think he and his writing and interractions with those he meets along the way lack a self-awareness that would make his story of the trip read less like a safari.

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