This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Burke's Rhetoric of Reorientation in Hank Williams' Honky-Tonk Performance




Robinson, Gregory

Type of Degree



Liberal Arts


Music can be a powerful form of constitutive rhetoric. Country music has garnered little attention from rhetoricians despite being a highly adaptive folk-form through the first half of the 20th century. In particular, the post-war honky-tonk subgenre addressed the cultural dislocation of many rural-to-urban migrants. During the post-war decade, Hank Williams was the most important artist in elevating the regional, honky-tonk style to national prominence. He embraced traditional style markers while extending the rural sense of community into the urban milieu. This study employs Kenneth Burke's concepts of piety, perspective by incongruity, and recalcitrance in order to discuss Williams' honky-tonk rhetoric of reorientation as it appears in his 1949 Health and Happiness show radio transcriptions. In terms of his rural-to-urban peers, Williams most notably constructed romantic love as a struggle toward this-worldly spiritual salvation. His rhetoric also symbolized marginal national sentiments about consumerism and masculinity. This study suggests that music may both preserve and challenge cultural understandings as part of an incremental rhetorical process.