Long Ways from Home: The Rhetoric and Performance of the American Folk Outlaw

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2014-01-13

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This study traverses the unsettled outlaw territory that is simultaneously a part of and apart from settled American society by examining outlaw myth, performance, and perception over time. In this study the outlaw figure is de-heroicized and expanded upon in its historical (Jesse James, Billy the Kid), folk (John Henry, Stagolee), and social (tramps, hoboes) forms in order to emphasize the disruptive possibilities of a marginal or outcast existence in performative acts that improvise on tradition. Because the outlaw voice has been most prominent in folk performance since the late nineteenth century, this study focuses on the works and personae of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. The performative outlaw is a cultural persona that is invested in outlaw tradition and conflates the historic, folkloric, and social in a cultural act. These three outlaw performers also demonstrate key cultural treatments of the outlaw in the form of the bad man, good man, and honest man.

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