Date of Award

8-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Thomas F. Haddox, Bill Hardwig, Carolyn Hodges

Abstract

This dissertation explores the intersections of American naturalism and the Southern Gothic by seeking to demonstrate how William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West revise key elements of fin-de-siècle naturalist fiction in a manner that enables them to create a new naturalism that they use to shed light upon the tendency of the sociocultural narratives that give meaning to the traditional conception of the Southern community to entrap characters within predetermined identities. Of particular interest are these texts’ revisions of the figures of the naturalist narrator and the naturalist protagonist. Moreover, by calling attention to the revision of literary naturalism that occurs in these three novels, I argue further that their engagement with naturalism contributes to current understandings of the Southern Gothic mode and offers new directions in naturalist studies that will lead to a greater understanding of the conventions and techniques of new naturalism. Specifically, I contend that placing emphasis on the Southern Gothic’s naturalist features allows readers to gain greater insight concerning questions of what happens to the Southern Gothic protagonist following his realization that he “has been ‘divested of the illusion of transcendent significance for either his social or personal existence and so finds himself an ‘alien, a stranger,’ ‘an exile,’ in the world that had once been his home” (Rubin xiii). It pushes beyond this observation by arguing that while the Southern Gothic characters’ lives unfold within the parameters of sociocultural narratives and structures that seek to determine their identities in a manner reminiscent of first-wave naturalism, these characters, unlike the unthinking naturalist brute, are conscious of the alienation and determinism that he or she experiences. This consciousness enables them to act as new naturalist characters that resist the deterministic environments that threaten to entrap them by creating narratives of self with which to combat the claims of the prevailing sociocultural narratives in which they have become inscribed and that will determine them should they not resist by conceiving of themselves as existing outside of their influence.

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