Final Thoughts on Theroux’s Deep South

As a discussion leader for this week, I read the present section with an analytical eye. I found myself enjoying and detesting Theroux’s final section all at once. He begins with his introduction to Rob Birmingham, a Vietnam Veteran. As Theroux will later mention, there is an immense sense of pride for the military throughout the South. Particularly in regards to those who served in Vietnam, there is a feeling of belated celebration hovering over their past actions and subsequent return home. Theroux notes time and again, he is old enough to have lived through many of America’s tribulations. However, Theroux knows more of third-world trials then he does of his own country’s indifferences.His travel log becomes a way in which he reintroduces himself to his nation; he comes across people, places, and unfortunate conditions he would not have researched otherwise. This is evident through his meeting with Rob Birmingham. He describes Rob as “he walked with difficulty, in an odd toppling way, and had trouble with stairs” (Theroux 303). It is almost as if Theroux hopes to represent Birmingham’s heroism by alluding to the lasting effects of his service. Birmingham will never escape his position as a military man, nor is he capable of running from his Vietnam past. He is hindered by merely one of America’s many acts of violence. In a way, Theroux’s compassion towards Birmingham is a means for illustrating his understanding of those he has met throughout his journey—he is finally comprehending the essence and diversity of the Deep South. Despite the struggles of life, Southerners take pleasure in the simple, but important features of daily existence. Theroux is continuously surprised by another’s warm welcome and well wishes. He seems slightly cynical, as he believes he has far more to offer then they own all together. Nevertheless, personal charm radiates across the Deep South, no matter your location: “Four hours later—I was entering South Carolina—my cell phone rang. ‘It’s Rob. You all right, man? You still on the road? You call me if you need anything’” (304).

Theroux then goes on to visit the quarries in Georgia: “This small town in rural Georgia was noted for its quarries but not for its technical schools or training colleges or manufacturing” (308). In the Deep South, experience is valued over education. Not everyone can afford college, nor is college always necessary. Theroux is “the other” in the situation. He comes from a region where your education may form your identity—the success you achieve in life may be a direct result of how many degrees you received. But, throughout this quarry there are young men who learned a trade hands-on, outside the structure of a classroom. Yet they were prospering. For this reason, the differences between the North and South are underlined by Theroux’s unnecessary presence in the quarry work environment. Theroux does illustrate the land destroyed by the quarry business: “In the steamy rain and mass of puddles, the granite quarry looked like botched surgery on a grand scale, the green earth and the woods laid open and the stone innards exposed and carved up the hoisted” (309). His account reminded me of Thompson’s discussion of Said and his work, Orientalism. Many lands which encompass the Orient were taken advantage of by bigger, more influential countries. Though the progression was portrayed, particularly to Westerners, as beneficial to the smaller country’s economy, the home environment of the Orient was nonetheless changed. The quarry brought about jobs in Georgia, allowing business in the given sector to further expand. But, at what cost for the land? A quality which sparks particular visions of anyone reminiscing over the scenery of the South is no more.

My final interest came from Theroux’s discussion of Bill Clinton. Theroux has an incredibly obvious bias when it comes to President Clinton: “Complex and contradictory, the public man seeking redemption, mock humble in manner but lusting for glory, perpetually enlisting big companies to help him expand his brand, Clinton is the quintessential Southern huckster who does not know when to stop, and Hot Springs, the corrupted town, which advertised its waywardness, was itself Clintonesque” (350). I struggle to give Theroux the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his preconceived notions of the South. He is detailing issues which need to be highlighted. I like to think some politician somewhere read Theroux’s travel text and took initiative to assist in the reconstruction of the Deep South. However, when Theroux has the audacity to rip apart a President’s demeanor, he negates his objectivity as a novelist and forces readers to question his statements from then on; his supposed truth cannot be considered an entirely unbiased narrative of the happenings throughout the Deep South. He imparts his own judgements upon his discussion of Clinton, and in that moment, releases his authority as a novelist all together.

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3 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on Theroux’s Deep South

  1. Travel writers are subjective, since the genre is so close to the memoir. I was also struck by Theroux’s judgement of President Clinton, but he seems to be critical and suspicious of politicians in general. I’ve just saw an article today that described how the Clinton presidency deepened the poverty of African Americans, and I assume it’s particularly in the South, so that made me think of Theroux’s judgment.

  2. I like how you point out how experience in the south is valued over education. This is something Theroux doesn’t seem to understand – especially in the beginning of the book. Consider his background in the North helps me understand why He is always so focused on an individuals education or lack there of.

  3. Theroux’s thoughts about the quarry and the people who worked there did not surprise me. However, I did not agree with him. I agree with you about Theroux being the “other” in this situation and also about the many jobs that are acquired through learning a trade. I know people who would much rather learn a trade than to go to college. Either route they take, I am thankful that they are willing to work. I also agree with what you stated about college not being available for everyone due to financial means. Learning a trade is a way for someone to make a living. I felt like Theroux sought out a person who appeared to dislike their job and purposefully included them in his travelogue.

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