Date of Graduation

12-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Susan Marren

Committee Member

Keith Booker

Second Committee Member

Joseph Candido

Abstract

Ellen Gilchrist's works shows the struggles of women living in a postmodern South. This dissertation explores Gilchrist's representations of southern women as they transition from the old South to modernity. Gilchrist's work depicts women who attempt to break off the pedestal of white Southern womanhood, but never quite do, often simultaneously disrupting and confirming traditional notions of a "good Southern lady." Gilchrist shows how women occupy the pedestal as a form of refuge and also as a form of protest. These are women who, as they navigate the transition to a new South, are reluctant to surrender the privilege of their class and race--privileges that provide them with material well-being and relative leisure. They are conflicted women who feel unsatisfied and finally strike out in ways that bring them hope. Although Gilchrist claims that she is not a feminist, she writes strong women characters who strive for independence from the men around them.

Gilchrist uses sexuality as a function of the grotesque--to shine a light int he margins and disrupt ideas of southern female sexuality. Gilchrist's women are expected to perform their gender at very early ages and in ways specific to their region. The black mammy figure in Gilchrist's work tells us much about how the South still struggles with issues of race. Gilchrist also writes against a patriarchal form, writing texts that are not conventional in form.

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