Lil' Abner is a wonderfully fitting comic strip in which to examine the dichotomous
treatment of "white trash", or in this case "hillbillies", paired up with "good country folk."
Lil' Abner was created by the world's best known newspaper cartoonist, Alfred Gerald
Caplin, better known as Al Capp. Caplin was born in Connecticut in 1909, though Capp was not
born until Lil' Abner began its forty three year long run with United Features Syndicate
Lil'Abner was a product of its time and its creator. Though this was the first hillbilly
cartoon, society's fascination with the backwoods white was at an all time high in the 1930's.
Erskine Caldwell's bawdy best-sellers, Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre
were everywhere. And Faulkner would publish seven novels during the 1930's, representing the
Southern poor white in all his ferocity. Social groups and government organizations like the
Tennessee Valley Authority were bringing electricity to the mountain folk and at the same time
exposing them to the outside world for gawking. Capp's timing was ideal on the national and
Apart from national interest and good business sense, Capp claimed his inspiration for Lil'
Abner from hillbilly vaudeville
and a road trip taken through the South as a teenager. In the tradition of black minstrelsy,
hillbilly vaudeville were minstrel shows with country music and country bumpkin deadpan
dialogue between the acts. Groups like the Skillet Lickers and Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill
Pickles were popular in the 1930's and 40's as the cartoonish oafs from the backwoods. Al
Capp's wife Catherine described their experience, "A group of four or five
singers/musicians/comedians were playing fiddles and Jews harps and doing a little soft shoe up
on stage. They stood in a very wooden way with expressionless, deadpan faces and talked in
monotones, with Southern accents. We thought they were just hilarious." It was that night that
Al decided to begin the Lil' Abner strip (Capp, 5).
Lil'Abner lasted forty-three years by exporing the story line of the Yokums versus the
Scraggs; or "good country hillbilly" versus "poor white trash." The Yokums are kind, family
and country. Pa is a laid back farmer who never wants to work too hard. Ma is a tough, loud
fiery woman who is proud as a peacock about her mountain ancestry. Lil' Abner is, of
course, very big
and childishly oafish, innocent, and not too bright. Overall a very likable group of people being
parodied kindly for their naive ways. On the other hand, the Scraggs are violent, crass,
uncouth, ignorant trash who beat up on women and wave their guns around freely.
Apart from the comic strips, the treatment of the working class white in newspapers and
newscast is also a telling medium to
examine. Simply looking up the definition of "redneck" in a dictionary or asking for synonyms
a word processing program will reveal the complete acceptance of this pejorative term as an
actual noun or adjective in America's language. The definition of redneck is n.a poor,
white, rural southerner, often, specif., one regarded as ignorant, bigoted, violent, etc. This is a
pretty straightforward and damning definition. It is no wonder that newscasters, writers and
everyday folk feel comfortable with the adjective redneck bar, redneck sheriff, redneck woman,
redneck town, etc. They are well assured of the intended meaning concerning the anti-society
world of the working class white.