Local Color Fiction and A Country Doctor
Local color is a genre of literature which seeks to record a specific way of life at a certain time and space therefore the main components of a local color fiction is: One of the prime features undoubtedly of local color fiction is location – temporal and spatial. Jewett takes meticulous care in detailing the rural village of Oldfields, Boston. The very name of the novel “A Country Doctor” already gives the book local color character for its rural setting. Oldfields is situated in a quiet wilderness inhabited by a few residents where the characters’ movements are confined to this space. Dunport is also another rural setting and Jewett describes it for the reader as Nan visits her aunt, Anne Prince. Because of the natural country setting, the pastoral genre has a clear influence. The romanticism of the times and sentimentality come into play.
The whole point of local color fiction is to recapture and preserve the past through literature. Hence the detailed location arouses feelings of nostalgia accompanied by the romanticizing of the past golden age when things were idealized. “It will be good to remember the white rose road … and…, I wonder if they will have to others a tinge of sadness; … fresh and delighted consciousness of the possibilities of rural life” (Jewett 2005). Because the past cannot be relived, the characters pride themselves on the enjoyment of bygone days in which the audience cannot indulge. “A good deal of local-color writing objectifies the intention of protecting regional interests…it achieves its end by sentimentalizing or idealizing a way of life” (Dike 1952). Recollection of past habits and customs comprise a significant portion of the book. In the first scenes, the Jakes and the Martins are around the fireplace recounting life experiences that they have had. Fondly evoking memories and perpetuating tradition is the nucleus of local color fiction. Resilient to change, the local color fiction genre stands unalterable and the character rarely veers from his habit once established.
Because of the fixed past as the prime theme, characters are related to each other based on past events and relationships – some remain rooted to the past, while others are intent on breaking the chains of the past. Certain stock characters are classified according to their adherence to tradition. Local color fiction exemplifies “the militant inflexibility of the characters with which it deals, their single-minded and patently conditioned dedication to values” (Dike 1952). Iconoclastic Adeline chooses to rebel against her family, leaves her hometown/ and returns in infamy like the Prodigal Son persona; whereas Anna Prince rigidly holds on to her customs and maintains her old Southern manners. On one hand, characters who represent the old dying age are Mrs. Graham and Dr. Ferris. On the other hand, the new age is ushered by Nan Prince, and George Gerry. Dr. Ferris, steeped in the country way of life, has trained Nan to continue the
In alignment with the pastoral concerns, the reader observes the Country versus City theme. In the novel, the urban space is described in denigrating terms and the residents of the country who must venture from the rural sphere find civilization in the city unbearable and sometimes do not survive its rigours. Adeline, Nan’s mother, in her younger days, seeks pleasure away from the country domain yet returns sick, dying, and “in the last stages of a decline” (Jewett 2005). Her notorious adventure outside of the country environment has sapped her strength and has defamed her before the eyes of her countrymen. Nan does not thrive without her natural country environment and she begins to decrease in vivacity, “suffering not a little from her long-continued city life” (Jewett 2005). Modern medicine as practiced in the city was despised by the country folk and Dr. Ferris judges that “it was astonishing how little some of the city doctors knew” (Jewett 2005). Some of the inhabitants of Oldfields formerly traveled to cities such as Boston and New York but, deluded and dissatisfied by the urbanized life, they choose to settle in the country.
“The repetitions of the best stories are signal events,” (Jewett 2005). Mrs. Meeker, the country gossip is an important character for through her eyes, since she always pries into the happenings of the small town allow us to learn what is going on in the families. She is a welcome visitor almost everywhere she goes for her stories are enchanting and riveting. One notices in the story that there is no climax or aggressive conflict in the narrative therefore one deduces that in tandem with the local color fiction genre, the novel is light on plot. In analyzing local color fiction, language is important and relays two messages. The colloquial Southern dialect used by the speakers at the beginning of the novel gives us proof of the veracity of the time and the residents of the space. The means of communication is a unique fingerprint which stamps the era with a specific identity for like people, language evolves and dies so capturing dialect is as important to the storytelling. The country folk speak among one another with their customary manner.
Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley, 1994.
Dike, Donald. Notes on Local Color and Its Relation to Realism. College English, Vol. 14. No. 2 (November 1952), pp. 81-88
Jewett, Sarah Orne. A Country Doctor. 2005. Rhode, Robert D. Scenery and Settings: A Note on American Local Color. College English Vol. 13, No. 3 (December 1951) pp. 142-146.
Westbrook, Perry D. Acres of Flint: Sarah Orne Jewett and Her Contemporaries. Rev. ed. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1981.
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