The Importance of Place in The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, Breece D’J Pancake’s only and posthumous collection of short stories, explores the lives of the troubled citizens of his native West Virginia. As insurmountable as they are beautiful, the Appalachian Mountains serve as a barrier between West Virginia and the outside world, proving inescapable for many of its residents. Throughout his work, Pancake uses place for a variety of purposes. In The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, landscape is used to portray inscape; the condition of the environment often matches the moral and emotional condition of his characters. Pancake also includes environmental criticism in his writing, detailing the destructive nature of coal mining and logging, and negatively portraying the encroachment of technology and industrialization. Most importantly, Pancake uses place to create a moral proving ground for his characters by placing them in difficult, seemingly inescapable situations. In these situations, characters must choose between achieving economic stability and leaving or destroying the mountains, which provides an emic perspective into the difficult economic and personal decisions that Appalachians often face. This paper will explore the work of an Appalachian writer whose contributions to Appalachian literature are too often ignored by academia. Pancake died at the age of 26, his work represents the hopes and concerns of a lifetime Appalachian, demonstrating a deep love of his community and a deep distrust of outsiders who seek to profit by destroying the land.