Southern Hospitality in The Clansman Essay

Submitted By Tammy-Jorgensen
Words: 1471
Pages: 6

Tammy Jorgensen
Professor Arnold
Eng 360-Southern Literature

True Welcome What does it mean to be “Southern?” This was a question posed to us in the first week of class, and it was something that I rightly assumed was a way to bring the stereotypes to light, so that we could be more aware of the reality of the southern culture versus the portrayal that we have all seen in the media and movies. Southern identity is not something that is easily defined because it is all a matter of perspective. The idea of being southern has less to do with where the person is located regionally and more to do with what that particular person perceives as “southern-ness.” I find myself most intrigued with the idea of “Southern Hospitality.” Hospitality is defined as: “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests” (Webster). Southern Hospitality is one of the main stereotypes that we discussed and that I have personally encountered, and it generalizes that the southerner is more polite, well-bred, or chivalrous and this is something that many white southerners believe to be true to this day. Although the novel, The Clansman by Thomas Dixon is seething with racist commentary, the examples of good versus evil that we find in this book tell us that the Southern way of life is more “hospitable” or welcoming which makes southerners superior to northerners. While reading The Clansman, I was surprised to find myself feeling sympathetic to the Confederates. Dixon does an amazing job of twisting history and portraying the white Southerner as the conquered and misaligned race. In the first half of the book we are bombarded with the Honourable Austin Stoneman, who through Dixon’s portrayal, is evil incarnate! Stoneman is insultingly called the “Great Commoner” in this story because most white southerners believe themselves to be part of an “aristocracy” which put them above the “common” northerners. The aristocracy of any nation has a fear of the power of the common man, and the further you read into this novel, the more frightening the suggested power of “the Great Commoner” is. Stoneman is described as a person who was “In temperament a fanatic, in impulse a born revolutionist…And from the first, he began to plot the most cruel and awful vengeance in human history” (Dixon 24). The vengeance he has in mind is truly evil in that it “can be done only by the extermination of its (the South’s) landed aristocracy, that their mothers shall not breed another race of traitors” (Dixon 30). The most frightening part for the southern people is that Stoneman is described as “the most powerful leader who ever walked the halls of Congress” and apparently had no one to curb his power because “his contempt for public opinion was boundless” and “he despised convention and ridiculed respectability” (Dixon 52).
If he is not evil to his core, Stoneman is at least seduced by the “evil” of the mulatto woman who runs his household as if it were her own. The power of the housekeeper is evident at a dinner that Stoneman has with his henchmen Silas Lynch and Colonel Howle, as she “presided over this curious group with the easy assurance of conscious power. Whatever her real position, she knew how to play the role she had chosen to assume” (Dixon 51). The housekeeper, Lydia Brown, has such control over Stoneman’s household that he lacks a welcoming attitude to anyone that is not African American or in league with him, including his own children, “A curious fact about this place on the Capitol hill was that his housekeeper, Lydia Brown, was a mulatto, a woman of extraordinary animal beauty and the fiery temper of a leopardess. Elsie had ventured there once and got such a welcome she would never return” (Dixon 33). Stoneman even goes so far as to trust the “housekeeper” with screening his visitors both personal and political, because his office was at his home near the capital “and no person was allowed to enter it without first