Locating the South Through American Literary Conversations

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December 2023

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Abstract

Much of the scholarly discussions and the pedagogical representations of American literature have placed undue regional boundaries as they read American literature as a mere regional cultural production. This dissertation offers a long-needed alternative to that approach by highlighting the responsive nature of the American literary canon, where authors from different regions negotiate the overall American story. In an introduction and four chapters, this dissertation draws upon the theoretical framework and consults some of the most recent and exciting ideas emerging from the “new southern studies” movement. The first chapter traces literary representations of colonial America by analyzing texts on President Thomas Jefferson’s affair with his slave mistress, Sally Hemings, which resulted in the birth of six children, specifically how Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Sally Hemings engages William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter. The second chapter reads two major slave narratives: Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Miguel Barnet’s Biography of a Runaway Slave, as well as a neo-slave narrative novel, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to unfold the myth of freedom often associated with the genre. The third chapter reads Richard Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children as a direct response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, rejecting the latter’s commitment to moral suasion through the assertion of violence as the ultimate drive to freedom. The final chapter reads William Faulkner’s inaugural novel, Soldiers’ Pay, in between F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, with the rise of the new woman figure as a thread connecting the three writers. This dissertation concludes by asserting the need to reassess the way we think about American literature as one continuous narration with a single unified literary canon.

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Literature, American

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