Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Peggy Whitman Prenshaw


This study examines the portrayal of Southern Appalachian people and their culture in American drama, discussing works from time periods that range from the 1880s to the 1990s. The plays are grouped into categories that are reflective of mainstream America's perceptions of Appalachian culture: (1) the importance of family and gender roles, including the insider/outsider romance plot, (2) issues of violence and conflict between both internal and external forces within the region in the context of wars, feuds, and environmental and labor abuses, (3) the importance of folk practice and belief including tales of the supernatural, superstitious and astrological traditions, and the folk religious practice of snake handling in signs following churches, and (4) traditional fundamentalist mountain religion as portrayed in both sympathetic and unsympathetic ways. These are the attributes of the culture most often emphasized in the social history, literature and other media images of the region. The playwrights who figure prominently in this study include Frances Hodgson Burnett and William Gillette, Charles T. Dazey, Hatcher Hughes, Percy MacKaye, Lula Vollmer, Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, Fred Koch, Jr., Peter Taylor, Howard Richardson and William Berney, Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn, Romulus Linney, Elizabeth Steams, Paula Cizmar, Jane Martin, Deborah Pryor, Connie Ray and Alan Bailey, Tom Ziegler and Robert Schenkkan. The plays discussed are all either currently in print or available widely in libraries. The study is concerned with the region's image on the national stage and in the national cultural imagination. Excluded are the plays performed only within the region by grassroots theatre companies because those plays are largely written by and for those who live in Appalachia, and thus they constitute a separate phenomenon. Also excluded are outdoor dramas, except those published in book form, not because they do not merit study, but because the versions performed often change yearly and sometimes differ significantly from the original, unpublished scripts. Central to the study is an exploration of how plays about Appalachia treat various cultural themes and how the scripts reflect both America's idea of Appalachia and, at times, the "insider" or "outsider" perspectives of the playwrights.