Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Thomas Haddox

Committee Members

Allen Dunn, William Hardwig, Stephen Blackwell


A Clumsy Method explores the ethical implications of the communal values represented by southern fiction against the backdrop of the Cold War. On the one hand, the New Critics and the New York Intellectuals championed modernist aesthetics and art-for-art’s sake formalism as an expression of individual freedom in the cultural diplomacy during the post-World War II period. On the other hand, the South was regarded as a cultural blemish in the U.S. because of its racial ideology and thus faced an identity crisis; “Americanness,” understood as liberal individualism, came to seem ideologically incompatible with southnernness. In order to deal with such an intractable situation, white southern intellectuals argued that their cultural identity should be distinguished from the political problem of segregation. Cold War-era U.S. nationalism thus places individualism as the core of liberal democracy and falsely equates the logic of cultural identity with an ethical value. Drawing upon the distinction that Walter Benn Michaels has made between cultural difference of identity and belief, I argue that political antagonism against totalitarianism has prompted confusion between cultural difference and value,especially in literary criticism.In each chapter, I examine novels by Eudora Welty (stories from The Bride of the Inn is fallen and Other Stories and The Ponder Heart), Robert Penn Warren (World Enough and Time and Band of Angels), Richard Wright (The Outsider and The Long Dream), Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away), and William Faulkner (A Fable and The Reivers) to suggest that they sought in varied ways to establish the ethical relationships between the individual and the southern community. These writers’ search for the ethical self shows a move away from identitarianism toward communitarian values. In particular, their reflections on familial relationship do not only epitomize the moral struggles for a southern communal identity but also entail criticism of U.S. liberal individualism against the backdrop of the Cold War.The southern fiction of the 1950s criticizes the identitarianism that underlies Cold War ideology, committing to ethical values that reflect on how to practice better care for and take responsibility for fellow members of southern community.

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