Jack Kerouac’s 1950 book The Town and the City was a white whale of fiction, rejected by most publishers. It was a conventionally-styled book, written before Kerouac developed his own style. It is said to be influenced by Thomas Wolfe. The problem for publishers was the book’s 1,100-page length. Paper and binding costs money and a long first book would eat into their profits. Eventually, the book was shortened and 15,000 copies were printed by Harcourt Brace, with 4,500 held in a warehouse without bindings in case it sold. It didn’t sell. Today, few are interested in this roman à clef comparison between Lowell, Massachusetts and the New York City of the beat poets. It is probably for the best.
Today we talk about the migration of people from the countryside to cities, as rural areas are being hollowed out. Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas wrote about it in their 2009 book Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America. Robert Wuthnow examined the sociology of rural America as it related to the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency in his 2019 The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America. There are trends in rural life, yet there is more than that.
Rural elected officials are the ones cutting budgets that handicap the Department of Natural Resources in doing their job. How regulations pertaining to water and air quality are enforced impact rural residents especially. Why do rural folks so often vote against their best interests? I submit it’s because they vote for candidates who reflect their position on LGBTQ+ (against same-sex marriage) and abortion (none permitted) and look no further. The crap legislation that moves state revenue from public schools to private and hollows out rural community life are part of the package. It is easy to say vote Democratic to avoid this.
The national media persist in depicting American society as divided along clear ideological lines. In rural Iowa life is more nuanced than that. I know how most of my neighbors vote. Practically, that’s a minor consideration in being part of a community.
When I say nuanced, a long time Republican neighbor stopped their car to comment while I was putting out political yard signs. I mentioned the candidates were both on the right side of issues important to our subdivision. These conversations are the glue that binds the community. We don’t have enough of them.
What I’m saying is don’t be like Kerouac and bloviate about divisions the popular culture left behind. Take time for a conversation with a neighbor. Donate to the food bank. Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper if you are lucky enough to still have one. Forget about the divide between rural and city folk as is depicted in media.
If you talk to enough voters in rural Iowa, it is easy to see where things land on abortion and same-sex marriage. The best we can do is encourage people that there are other, equally important issues.There may be no changing one’s firmly held beliefs on an issue or two. At the same time, our lives go on and there are real threats to the environment, our economy, and our way of life. While we hold fast to our beliefs, we must also be open to change in areas that serve the common good. The false division of rural and city should be relegated to history the way Kerouac’s book has been. It turned out his second book, On The Road, was a much better read in any case.
One reply on “Where Rural and City Meet”
Fellow rural Iowan here, good to read your thoughts. I think there is no greater issue then water quality in our state, and all states that surround the Mississippi River. What has been done to our water in the region is actually criminal in my opinion, and a crime which will take greater degrees of significance as time goes on, as water issue become more pronounced, and its true value becomes clear. Unfortunately, I just have not seem any of the big AG guys in my area seem to have any concern about water, or a reluctance to keep dumping all the stuff on their fields which are causing the problem. Interesting, I believe fertilizers are becoming more expensive, I hear this my prompt a usage of alternative techniques, which could be better all around for the environment, but I remain skeptical. I think the Des Moines river way projects, are probably a better bet, where entertainment and usage could become a driving force to clean it all up. Anyway, followed and look forward to hearing your thoughts.