Misogynistic Themes in Murder Ballads: Background information when reading The Killing Hills

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Killing Hills

by Chris Offutt

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt X
The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 21, 2022, 240 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Amanda Ellison
Buy This Book

About this Book

Misogynistic Themes in Murder Ballads

This article relates to The Killing Hills

Print Review

In The Killing Hills, which takes place in Kentucky, misogyny manifests in attitudes toward key female characters, notably the town sheriff. Additionally, the act of femicide is a central theme and a reminder of cultural aspects of female subjugation, including the murder ballad, a song format that is notably popular as a sub-genre of Appalachian folk music.

The origins of the murder ballad can be traced back to regions of Britain and Scandinavia, and became part of an oral tradition imported to the United States by British migrants who settled in Appalachia. One of the earliest examples of the song form, "The Twa Sisters" (The Two Sisters), is known to have existed in Britain as far back as 1656. It tells the story of one sister murdering another due to jealousy, and has spawned many versions, including one that emerged in Kentucky in 1917. While the murder is not committed by a man, the song tells of a male suitor who is the source of the sisters' rivalry. Thus, femicide in this type of song was present from the form's very inception. Other classic examples of the murder ballad include "On the Banks of the Ohio," "Knoxville Girl" and "Pretty Polly."

Whether based on historical fact – as some murder ballads are – or completely fictional, these songs often share one common denominator: misogyny. Subjects such as unwanted pregnancies, violence against women, male jealousy and its consequences, and gendered killing — frequently by drowning — all pervade the genre. The shame of unwed mothers who get their comeuppance is a particularly common theme, and the female subject of the ballad often suffers violence at the hands of a man, as in "On the Banks of the Ohio."

However, over time, the murder ballad has evolved. In Dolly Parton's "The Bridge," for example, a female speaker, pregnant and deserted by her lover, returns to the bridge where they met to kill herself. While this ballad is still freighted with traditional characteristics such as death by drowning and unwanted pregnancy, there are two crucial developments: Firstly, there is a female first-person perspective, which enables the listener to empathize with the protagonist in her last moments; secondly, she drowns of her own volition. Nevertheless, although the subject is not directly murdered by her male lover, the stigma he leaves her to deal with is clearly the source of her decision to take her own life.

Some recent songs have put a more feminist slant on the murder ballad. Hurray for the Riff Raff's "The Body Electric" uses the murder ballad format to critique indifference towards misogynistic violence, noting, "the whole world sings/Like there's nothing going on." Taylor Swift's "No Body, No Crime" hints at a woman hitting back against femicide. The song "Goodbye Earl," popularized by The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks) in 2000, highlights the vengeful consequences of relentless domestic abuse: the female friends in the ballad plot to get away with the murder of the abusive husband in question. (The B-side of this song was — ironically — "Stand By Your Man"!)

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Amanda Ellison

This article relates to The Killing Hills. It first ran in the July 14, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Let's Not Do That Again
    Let's Not Do That Again
    by Grant Ginder
    We have all dealt with inescapable, insufferable family members at some point, and the ones who say ...
  • Book Jacket: Atomic Anna
    Atomic Anna
    by Rachel Barenbaum
    If you had the opportunity to prevent one of the world's most horrific disasters, would you? What if...
  • Book Jacket: The Colony
    The Colony
    by Audrey Magee
    The Colony opens with Mr Lloyd, a London artist, being transported to a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) ...
  • Book Jacket: The Return of Faraz Ali
    The Return of Faraz Ali
    by Aamina Ahmad
    In Aamina Ahmad's debut, The Return of Faraz Ali, the eponymous character is a police inspector in ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Shadows of Berlin
by David R. Gillham
A captivating novel of a Berlin girl on the run from the guilt of her past and the boy from Brooklyn who loves her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Fly Girl
    by Ann Hood

    "Sheer pleasure. A hilarious and often moving look back at...a young woman's coming of age."
    —Dennis Lehane

  • Book Jacket

    The Immortal King Rao
    by Vauhini Vara

    A resonant debut novel obliterating the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historic and the dystopian.

Who Said...

They say that in the end truth will triumph, but it's a lie.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T S's T Limit

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.