Emotional Fundamentalism In River Of Earth

1681 words - 7 pages

James Still's River of Earth presents the bleak realities faced by an Appalachian family that struggles with meeting their most basic needs. The Baldridge's struggle with poverty is surely representative of many Appalachian families during the Depression era. The hardships of poverty, and its psychological and physical effects, are worsened by the isolation and sense of helplessness felt by the characters within River of Earth. Religion functions as the combatant to these struggles; the form of Christianity offered by Still strays from the standard fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preachings often associated with evangelism in the Appalachian region. Instead, a more emotional form of fundamentalism is found. Religion is a positive, empowering force that is both spiritually and socially freeing for the otherwise repressed and isolated characters within the novel.
Within the text, Still offers little escape for the characters. They are grounded and focused on the realities at hand. There is little indulgence in fanciful things or things not of this world. Religion is one of the few escapes the characters are allowed. Still does not offer a standard fundamentalist take on Christianity, despite the strong fundamentalist strains that are often associated with Appalachia. Generally, fundamentalism strongly emphasizes innate depravity and the damnation sinners face. Instead, Still lightens the message. Sermons on hope, grace, and mercy are extended to the characters. Through this more forgiving variety of Christianity, the characters are able to look forward to an eternal existence without adding any more stress to their current existences. It is suggested there is a tendency in Appalachia to lean towards forms of Christianity that perpetuate a more positive message. With a population that is largely dislocated economically, socially, and psychologically, emotional fundamentalism is instrumental in Appalachia for alleviating the anxieties of everyday life. Those who practice emotional fundamentalism can be characterized by the following beliefs: there is a God who hears and answers prayers, belief in God is the best means of forgetting worries, and religion is the primary driving force for living (Photiadis and Schnabel).
The lives of the individuals within River of Earth are significantly limited. The viable ways of earning a living come through either coal mining or subsistence farming. Neither of these options are hardly forgiving or a reliable means of supporting a family. Brack Baldridge, the sole provider in the family, insists on coal mining as the primary source of support for his family, despite the mines often closing. This forces the family to sustain themselves through farming. Although farming is a more independent way of life that is not controlled by businessmen, as coal mining is, it is still subject to chance - namely, the whims of the land and weather. In either case, the family's ability to sustain themselves is significantly out...

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