Thursday, June 18, 2009

American Humor (1)

American Humor: A Study of the National Character (1). Constance Rourke. Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. 1931.

Why read it? The two strains of American humor are the Yankee and the back woods. And both are a part of American character.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“There is scarcely any aspect of the American character to which humor is not related.” p. 9. ……….

“Listless and simple, he [the Yankee] might be drawn into a conversation with a stranger, and would tell a ridiculous story without apparent knowledge of its point.” p. 18. ……….

“Asked a question, he [the Yankee] was likely to counter with another. p. 18.

“Those bits of indirection were social; direct replies would end many a colloquy. Questions or evasions prolonged the talk and might open the way for more.” p. 18. ……….

“…as he [the Yankee] marshaled the characters in a story he was an actor and a troupe.” p. 18. ……….

“An emotional man may possess no humor, but a humorous man usually has deep pockets of emotion….” p. 20.

“Brother Jonathan, an out-at-elbows New England country boy with short coat-sleeves, shrunken trousers and a blank countenance….” p. 21. ……….

“Brother Jonathan had in fact turned into Uncle Sam.” p. 25. ……….

“The contrast lay between an honest plain American and a silly, foppish…Englishman.” p. 24. ……….

“… the Briton, still wicked, still mannered and over-polished, either rich or nefariously seeking riches, and always defeated by simple rural folk to the accompaniment of loud laughter.” p. 25.

“Stories had always been a Yankee habit.” p. 27. ……….

“Yankee speech was not so much a dialect as a lingo: that is, its oddities were consciously assumed.” p. 28. ……….

Jack Downing [Seba Smith]…but beneath the placid stream of talk ran a drastic criticism of the Jacksonian democracy.” p. 29. ……….

“A barrier seemed to lie between the legendary Yankee and any effort to reach his inner character….” p. 35.

“A steamboat captain, once a flatboatman, finding that one of his men had been badly treated in a house on the river near New Orleans, fastened a cable round the pier on which the house rested, and starting the steamer, pulled it into the river drowning the inmates.” p. 40. ……….

“Probably the backwoodsman always kept a large blank gaze fixed upon the stranger as he polished his tales” p. 47. ……….

“He [Mike Fink] was in fact a Mississippi river-god, one of those minor deities whom men create in their own image and magnify to magnify themselves.” p. 52.

“If a fellow is born to be hung he will never be drowned.” p. 54. ……….

“…a long sequence of stories—chiefly hunting stories—in which the hunter killed or captured a bagful of game at a single stroke: in danger from the onslaught of a bear and a moose, he aimed at a sharp-edged rock; the split bullet killed both, and fragments of rock flew into a tree and killed a squirrel ; the recoil knocked him backward into a river; swimming to the shore, he found his coat full of trout and other fish flopped from his trousers.” p. 57.

To be continued.

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