Colors in the Minds of Appalachian Women

Through manifesting their cultural values, Appalachian women forge the state of mental health of their region. Research investigating factors related to psychological flexibility among this population is existent but not conclusive. As Helton and Keller (2010) discuss, female resiliency in Appalachian communities is impacted by Appalachian-specific values pertaining to geography, religion, and social dynamics. Social connectivity and individual morale also play significant roles in affecting women’s emotional strength in Appalachia (Collins and Paul 2008). Though bodies of work on the subject exist, the modicum of research focusing on mental illness among Appalachian women is inadequate. In the context of Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence, this paper seeks to reconcile some of the disparities that exist between Appalachian values’ capacity for both bolstering and hindering regional women’s senses of agency.

Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence speaks to the pervasiveness of mental illness in Appalachian women. Wilkinson’s Minnie Mae, among the other residents of Opulence, struggles against burdens of the soul and mind; expressly Appalachian mores contribute to these afflictions that plague the novel’s female characters. Steeped in the environment of Wilkinson’s novel, this paper will examine how Appalachian women’s culture of resolve can actually cause the flaming out of female perseverance. Because of local color writing and other forms of exoticization, Appalachian stories and ways of life are often misunderstood. This paper seeks to contribute to the discourse on Appalachia a new perspective regarding regional women’s abilities to promote enduring tenacity in the face of environmental and familial stressors.