Appalachian Literature or Not?: A Brief Examination of To Kill a Mockingbird

The staff here at MGB has been discussing what defines the Appalachian fiction genre, so we went searching. We read a lot of quality content, but we also came across some that caused us to raise our brows and say no. That said, this post is in direct response to THIS article.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird does not qualify as Appalachian literature. The article linked above states that To Kill a Mockingbird is both a Southern Gothic novel and an Appalachian novel. This simply isn’t true. While there is some definite crossover in themes, most Appalachian Literature does not fit into the Southern Gothic genre, which depicts the Southern United States, specifically the deep south, and is not reflective of Appalachia’s diverse geography. The setting for To Kill a Mockingbird, Maycomb, Alabama, is fictional so, there is no real means of telling where the story is set in the state. However, the content itself leads the reader to believe it’s set further south.

Here’s a chart comparing the genres to help simplify the differences.

Quality Southern Gothic Lit. Genre Appalachian Lit. Genre
Grotesque (sometimes supernatural elements) Yes Sometimes
Damaged/delusional characters Yes Sometimes
Isolation/marginalization Yes Yes, but the isolation is often geographical in nature
Marginalization Yes Yes, but Appalachian residents are widely marginalized in media forms (no dependency on wealth, gender, or sexual orientation)
Oppression/ discrimination Yes Often financial oppression, but discrimination is rare (everyone is equally poor)
Decay Yes In coal country, yes
Deep Southern Setting Yes The Appalachians stretch from Mississippi to New York – a much larger and mountainous geographic area, parts of which cannot be considered southern
Outsider Character(s) Yes Yes
Independence/ self-reliance No – often weak characters, especially female characters Yes

Charles Reagan Wilson, Ph.D. Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi states that, “In the Southern Gothic tradition, everything has meaning…The abandoned plantation house isn’t there just to be spooky. It represents our fixation with history.” This isn’t necessarily true in Appalachian Literature. A fallen-in house might be just that, fallen-in. Furthermore, the geography often creates isolation, and it is not self-inflicted. Self-reliance is also a norm in Appalachian Literature.

In short, the article has mislabeled To Kill a Mockingbird as Appalachian Literature. So, what is Appalachian Literature? Here’s a list from Goodreads to get you started. (note: the author of this post has not read every book on this list, so if one doesn’t qualify, look elsewhere for clarification).