The new woman of the New South: gender and class in 20th century Southern women's literature

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University of Alabama Libraries

The theoretical study of Southern literature has become increasingly popular in recent decades. Many of the studies focus on women's rights, racial inequality, class relations, and other injustices as they are depicted within the texts of Southern authors; this master's thesis is no different. I, too, recognize the social injustices represented in many Southern texts and seek to understand how they translate into an understanding of Southern history. One of the foundational points of my research is that the South is depicted as a grotesque region, and Southern writers have done little to dispute the grotesque label given to them by scholars. In fact, in the early twentieth century, Southern authors invented a literary genre that emphasizes the queer, distorted, and grotesque culture of the American South. Authors used images of disability, gender bending, and intersexuality as a way of representing the grotesque, economically divided South. Women writers were especially engaged in writing about these themes that generally define Southern literature. One way that Southern female writers of the twentieth century represented the grotesque in their writing was by employing the archetypal figure of the tomboy. Within the context of this study, tomboys are considered young--pubescent or pre-pubescent--girls who occupy a liminal space in the man-woman gender binary. In addition to the tomboy identity being a liminal space in the gender binary, it is also characterized by a liminal time in lives of girls who claim this identity. Tomboyism is generally given up during adolescence. Carson McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Katherine Anne Porter's "Old Mortality" and "The Old Order" all contain iconic New South tomboys. Through their rejection of, or in some cases queering of, traditional gender norms, Mick Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Frankie Addams in The Member of the Wedding, Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Miranda in "Old Mortality" and "The Old Order" all demonstrate the intersectionality of socioeconomic status and gender in the New South era and its relationship to the Southern Gothic.

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American literature