Critical Context

Romulus Linney’s most widely produced play, Holy Ghosts, is not a sociological document about Pentecostal snakehandling (a form of worship founded in Appalachia around 1909), yet it stands as the best-known dramatic work on the subject and doubtless owes much of its well-deserved popularity to curiosity about the practice. Beyond that, however, Linney’s sensitive Pentecostal group portrait occupies a high rank in the canon of the author’s works.

Reared in Tennessee and North Carolina, Linney has drawn upon his knowledge of the rural South for most of his plays. Tennessee (pr. 1979, pb. 1980) portrays an elderly Appalachian woman who recalls a frontier youth that restricted her own self-growth. Sand Mountain (pr., pb. 1985) encompasses two short folk plays: one about a discriminating young widow who rejects bragging men for a truth-telling widower, and a second about the visit to a mountaineer family of Saint Peter and a disguised Jesus. A Woman Without a Name (pr. 1985) concerns a turn-of-the-twentieth-century southern woman whose reenactment of past memories liberates her from despairing self-doubt and strengthens her sense of self-worth.

In another context, Holy Ghosts traces a pattern of action developed in many Linney dramas, in which his protagonists enter or mature in environments where they confront values foreign to or repressive of their individuality. Usually tempted or overcome by...

(The entire section is 434 words.)