Beyond Dark Hills was Jesse Stuart’s first prose expression of his philosophy of life. His highly localized vision centers on the Kentucky side of the Appalachian Mountains and is conveyed through his depiction of inhabitants of that region, dating from the Civil War. Thus, his subject is not merely his own life but also his home area, a region of America that had somehow never ceased to be frontier. The great waves of immigration, industrialization, and urbanization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had had little impact on Kentucky Appalachia.
From his Scottish forebears the young Stuart inherited strong measures of the Calvinistic ethic: Hard work was a virtue, thrift was essential, soberness was a step toward perfection, and an all-seeing God watched over each soul’s struggle between good and evil. While his parents were to become embodiments of these virtues for him, Stuart recognized that vast numbers of his relatives and neighbors were “backsliders.” During the Prohibition era of his youth, moonshiners turned corn into whiskey for local consumption and for export to urban bootleggers.
Like the eighteenth century philosophes of Europe, Stuart believed that nature and nature’s God brought enlightenment to mankind, and he found evidence of God’s handiwork all around his hills. He passionately loved the land, particularly the land that his parents had labored to clear, to cultivate, and finally to...
(The entire section is 1125 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Beyond Dark Hills Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!