Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Melungeons are a mixed race of dark-skinned people living in the mountains of Appalachia whose ethnic origins are mysterious. One recent theory is that they are descended from Moors who came to the New World in the sixteenth century with Portuguese explorers and then moved into the interior and intermarried with indigenous people. Some research has suggested that the word “Melungeon” comes from a Turkish word that means “abandoned by God.” The dark-skinned, mixed-race people were often scorned by white settlers and driven out of the valleys and into the mountains where they lived relatively secluded lives.

Deputy Goins has suffered racial prejudice because of his mixed-race background. When an army dentist noticed that his gums were tinged with blue, he was assigned to an all-black company. Both black and white soldiers treated him with open scorn; thus he was doubly exiled and marginalized. This subject matter—a mixed-race person who suffers from prejudice—fits in with the 1990’s literary focus on multiculturalism and racial conflict. However, this is less Chris Offutt’s central thematic interest than it is a general thematic background for the sense of isolation and alienation that pervades the story.

“Melungeons” also is a variation of the oldest subtype of the Kentucky mountain story—the family feud, à la the Hatfields and McCoys in the late nineteenth century. Whereas the feud between the Gipsons and the Mullins...

(The entire section is 550 words.)