Date of Graduation

5-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Lisa Hinrichsen

Committee Member

Danny D. Sexton

Second Committee Member

Amy Witherbee

Keywords

Social sciences; Psychology; Language, literature and linguistics; Adolescence; Coming-of-age; Sexual trauma; Tomboys

Abstract

The Androgynous Tomboy: Adolescent Liminality in the Contemporary Southern Bildungsroman is an analysis of the adolescent, specifically, of the young tomboy characters central to three Bildungsroman texts set in the American South during the twentieth century: Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding (1946), Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country (1985) and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (1993). I seek to challenge the very notion of the conventional tomboy within the coming of age literary genre by defining these youths as androgynous, rather than as young individuals who assume a singular gender opposite of their biological sex. Throughout my work, I will examine how these figures become classified as individual distortions of normative girlhood and as a result, become threatened by cultural, historical and societal expectations within their respective eras; how their androgynous gender casts them as scapegoats and freaks within a society whose normativity is founded upon a strict masculine-feminine binary; and how their existence in a particular space - the American South - adds unconventional pressures as these tomboys realize their sexuality while enduring the painful, compulsory assimilation into Southern womanhood.

Within this examination, the figure of the androgynous tomboy and the punishment these individuals accrue for their queer identity will serve as a reflection upon the damagingly absurd hetero-normative standards of both the South and our society as whole. Through analyzing the historical progression of gender within the Southern space, the tomboy will emerge as proof that the notion of dual, normative genders is destructive, yet remains relatively unmodified as of late. Ultimately, I will argue that these children, these tomboys, become queer figures because of their androgyny, as well as by the violence they are forced to endure as they realize their sexuality during their relatively innocent formative years. Their characterizations within these Bildungsroman narratives signify how evolved our society has become in terms of the acceptance of queer sexuality and genders in adolescents, and the degree to which society still must transform in order to achieve an identity that encompasses the fluidity of genders.