Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 650
Oral History, the third novel by fiction-writer Lee Smith, tells of a modern-day community college student who travels to the remote Appalachian Mountain town of Hoot Owl Holler to chronicle an oral history of her ancestors, which leads to tales of incest, witchcraft, suicide, superstition, murder, and numerous other tragedies. The story weaves together a multitude of viewpoints, with each character lending a unique voice to create a portrait of this enigmatic multi-generational family.
These are the key characters in the story.
Jennifer Bingham: She pursues her family's past as an assignment for her college course. She is a blood relative of the Hoot Owl Holler locals but was raised as a city girl by a stepfather who prohibited her from going to the mountains. She originally sees her relatives as backwoods clichés and is only interested in how they can help her. Eventually, she gets to know them and learns some things she didn't expect.
Ora Mae: She is Jennifer’s step-grandmother and is put off by the fact that she is being studied for a class assignment. She sees Jennifer as insincere and treats her like an outsider while also insinuating that she’s not ready for the things she’ll uncover.
Almarine Cantrell: One of the late relatives of the family stories, he inherited his father’s property in the late 1800s and became enamored with a local girl named Red Emmy. However, he eventually turns away from her and marries Pricey Jane. When his wife dies, he blames Emmy and murders her in a rage.
Red Emmy: She is the daughter of a local man who many believe sold his soul to the devil. As a result, she is feared to have Wiccan powers and is considered a sexual deviant. She has a cloudy past and becomes the object of Almarine’s affections for a short while, which some say is the result of a lust spell she cast on him. Almarine murders her.
Pricey Jane: She is a dark-haired beauty who marries Almarine once he breaks away from Emmy. However, like Emmy, she also has a mysterious past and eventually dies from ingesting dew poison.
(The entire section contains 650 words.)
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