So many others: reconstructions of whiteness in the literature of the American South, 1880-1920

Hopkins, Izabela Maria (2013) So many others: reconstructions of whiteness in the literature of the American South, 1880-1920. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.


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The study explores reconstructions of whiteness in the literature of the American South, offering a deconstructive approach to whiteness. Navigating its way through contemporary scholarship on whiteness, it questions the conflation of whiteness with white identity, which locks its interpretations within the white versus black dichotomy. Adopting a place specific approach, the thesis situates its discussion in the Post-Reconstruction South, proposing that whiteness is not a homogeneous category, but rather its constructions are unique to particular locales. The thesis engages with the works of such nineteenth century southern writers as Thomas Nelson Page, Ellen Glasgow, Charles Waddell Chesnutt and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Although immersed in the tradition of the region, these writers are positioned on the opposite sides of the colour line, and an examination of their unique narrative positions allows for an objective delineation of southern whiteness. Combining ‘white’ and ‘black’ perspectives, the discussion explores what constitutes the southern variety of whiteness and the ways in which these writers reconstruct it. Following Richard Dyer’s identification of perfect whiteness with the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the study argues that whiteness consists in replicating these biblical paradigms in the ordinary. In the South, these models of whiteness are conflated with notions of antebellum gentility and apotheosised in the figures of the gentleman planter and southern belle, who are involved in the process of mimetic reconstructions of the divine and genteel ideals. Casting whiteness as a composite of distinct totalities that resist unification into an organic whole, the thesis argues that the desire to replicate the biblical and genteel models is perpetuated by a conviction of intrinsic ‘blackness’ that needs to be exorcised. Such awareness blights reconstructions of whiteness, transmuting them into sites of rupture and transgression. Haunted by the preconceived perfection of the divine and antebellum paradigms, the southern gentleman and lady are transformed into inadequate approximations, while whiteness proper remains elusive.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
July 2013Completed
Uncontrolled Keywords: American literature, Southern States, History and criticism
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-01 - English studies (non-specific)
CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-04 - languages and area studies > CAH19-04-08 - American and Australasian studies
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Media and English > School of English
Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Richard Birley
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2017 13:21
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:42

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