- Restrictions on Access:
- Restricted (Penn State Only).
- The past quarter century has born witness to a vast critical output in the field of whiteness studies, as multiple scholars in disparate fields have analyzed the ways in which whiteness operates as a systematic power structure that, for centuries, has created and upheld an uneven relationship between whites and non-whites, granting the former tangible benefits in political, socioeconomic, and moral power. That many scholars working on whiteness have located the importance of examining southern literature through the focused lens of critical race analysis should come as no surprise. From the decades before the Civil War, when the idea of a literature that was at least partially distinct from a larger sense of American literature arose, southern literature has had racial concerns staunchly at its front and center. What is perhaps less readily apparent is the number of similarities found in analytic works in the fields of whiteness studies and southern studies. Chief among these is the insistence and move toward a less homogeneous, totalizing view of the terms "white(s)," "whiteness," "South(s)" and "southern." Southern literature has long been a record of the experiences of both the region's white and black residents. While literary criticism has taken into account the ways in which authors have depicted the South's particular racial concerns, considering the framework provided by whiteness studies scholars opens broader avenues for critical exploration. Specifically, I investigate the ways in which both black and white authors from the post Reconstruction period through the Civil Rights era depicted white racial anxiety. White anxiety is a central tenet of the South's peculiar brand of racism. What makes southern white anxiety different from 'normal' or 'normative' white anxiety is this weight of being southern; in addition to nostalgia associated with the Lost Cause mentality, the southerner is faced with generations of being viewed as and viewing others as being somehow separate from America at large, a nation within a nation, to echo W. J. Cash. Over the course of my introduction and six chapters I interrogate a multitude of depictions of 'normative' whiteness: after a contextual introduction, my first chapter joins recent critical conversations on plantation literature, specifically elements of nostalgia in works by Joel Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page, contrasting their work with that of Charles Chesnutt's conjure stories. In Chapter 2, I discuss the race-baiting Thomas Dixon and Sutton Griggs, whose novel The Hindered Hand is a direct response to Dixon. In my third and fourth chapters, I discuss the important of 'white trash': first in William Faulkner's Snopes Trilogy, then in the work of Erskine Caldwell, especially his photojournalist work You Have Seen Their Faces. Chapter 5 discusses various southern memoirs, juxtaposing the conservative Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy and Richard Wright's famed Black Boy and Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith, a scathing indictment of segregation. The final chapter discusses elements of foreignness and disability in the works of Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, specifically the former's short story "Good Country People" and the latter's novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. My conclusion offers a case study in popular music with emphasis on The Clash and Lynyrd Skynyrd, before turning toward recent southern literature, specifically the works of Randall Kenan and Monique Truong, to emphasize that white anxiety is an ever prevalent concern in southern letters for a broad spectrum of authors writing about vastly disparate cultural experiences.
- Dissertation Note:
- Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University 2016.
- Technical Details:
- The full text of the dissertation is available as an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file ; Adobe Acrobat Reader required to view the file.
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