A Changing Landscape
Bobbie Ann Mason sets ”Residents and Transients” in a rural landscape to underscore the changes both the countryside and her characters are experiencing. Mary’s parents have retired and moved to Florida, leaving her to supervise the sale of the farm and the auction of their belongings. The house will soon be lost, and it is likely that the new owners will not farm the land. Such situations were common throughout the 1980s and 1990s across the rural areas of Kentucky. More and more acres, formerly dedicated to farming, were converted to housing and shopping malls. In Graves County, Kentucky, for example, forty-two percent of all the homes in the county have been built since the 1970s.
Likewise, the demographics of the region are changing at the time of the story. Stephen represents the influx of businessmen from the North; in his case, he is a salesman, selling new technology that brings about further progress. With word processors, modems, Internet access, and electronic mail, no area is too remote, no area remains untouched by technology.
Mary is unlike other Mason female characters who are generally blue-collar, working-poor women. Moreover, Mary does not fit the demographic pattern of the area, emphasizing her role as an outsider. For example, only eleven percent of Kentuckians had been to college in 1980. The implication is that Mary has had at least four years of higher education, and perhaps more than that. In addition, Mary’s family, while not wealthy, own land and a farm. Her parents have enough money to retire to Florida. Given that the per capita income in Graves County, Kentucky (Mason’s home county), was only $10,900 in 1985, Mary’s financial situation is far better than most of the people around her.
While Stephen and Mary’s financial situation seems to be secure, their marriage is not. The divorce rate in the United States peaked in 1981 at 5.3 divorces for every 1000 people. In addition, in the years since Mason wrote her story, the marriage rate has steadily dropped. These figures are in contrast to people the age of Mary’s parents who generally married younger and stayed married longer.
In her deft portrayal of the changing countryside, Mason has accurately and poignantly captured a Kentucky in transition. The cultural and social changes provide a rich milieu for Mason’s characters.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Bobbie Ann Mason, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.