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Poor White by Sherwood Anderson
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Hugh McVey was born in a little hole of a town stuck on a mud bank on the
western shore of the Mississippi River in the State of Missouri. It was
a miserable place in which to be born. With the exception of a narrow
strip of black mud along the river, the land for ten miles back from the
town--called in derision by river men "Mudcat Landing"--was almost entirely
worthless and unproductive. The soil, yellow, shallow and stony, was
tilled, in Hugh's time, by a race of long gaunt men who seemed as exhausted
and no-account as the land on which they lived. They were chronically
discouraged, and the merchants and artisans of the town were in the same
state. The merchants, who ran their stores--poor tumble-down ramshackle
affairs--on the credit system, could not get pay for the goods they handed
out over their counters and the artisans, the shoemakers, carpenters and
harnessmakers, could not get pay for the work they did. Only the town's two
saloons prospered. The saloon keepers sold their wares for cash and, as the
men of the town and the farmers who drove into town felt that without drink
life was unbearable, cash always could be found for the purpose of getting

Hugh McVey's father, John McVey, had been a farm hand in his youth but
before Hugh was born had moved into town to find employment in a tannery.
The tannery ran for a year or two and then failed, but John McVey stayed in
town. He also became a drunkard. It was the easy obvious thing for him to
do. During the time of his employment in the tannery he had been married
and his son had been born. Then his wife died and the idle workman took his
child and went to live in a tiny fishing shack by the river. How the boy
lived through the next few years no one ever knew. John McVey loitered in
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