Classic local color writing translates cultural diversity into "archetypes" (the simple-minded cracker, the superstitious Negro, the ceremonial Seminole), each with his "peculiar" worldview. These are rendered in a witty style and sentiment that were considered to be entertaining to the contemporary (outsider?) reader. The local color voice surfaces in other places in the "Contemporary Scene" essay, as well as in different sections of the FWP guide, when the authors address the dialect of the cracker, Negro tall tales, etc.

One of the things that should be clear from this reading of local color is how, as a genre, it functions to reconcile the kind of social difference that challenges a harmonious vision of a pluralist American society. Disparities in historical experience among various classes of Americans disappear within a superficial and flighty treatment of history. Differences in cultural practices are exoticized enough to be entertaining, and yet sufficiently domesticated through humor to make them unthreatening.

The FWP guidebooks are not local color writing in the strict sense. What they are, rather, is an imaginative blend of genres; local color, ethnography, travel literature, documentary, public history. Their attempts (at some times, in some ways) to resolve social dysfunction within discourse are supported by the underpinnings of each genre. The local color effect I described above is particularly suited to the travel guide format.



Juliet Gorman, May 2001