Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation argues for the significance and effectiveness of a dynamic model of community by exploring the varying ways southern women writers of late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries imagine southern community. As these women writers demonstrate, community is not a final state to be achieved; rather, community is continuously made and re-made. Other theories of community often mask this labor, relying on the concept’s positive connotation to cover up the work that goes into creating and maintaining community bonds. Southern women writers are particularly adept at exposing the processes of community because their position outside of patriarchal southern power structures leads them to imagine alternative communities that oppose or bypass dominant communities. This dissertation also constitutes an act of feminist scholarship because it legitimizes women’s often overlooked emotional and interpersonal labor to build community bonds. To develop my theory of community, I analyze several novels—Can’t Quit You, Baby (1988) by Ellen Douglas, Dessa Rose (1986) by Shirley Anne Williams, Bitter in the Mouth (2010) by Monique Truong, A Cure for Dreams (1991) by Kaye Gibbons, Mama Day (1993) by Glora Naylor, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1987) by Fannie Flagg, Six of One (1978) by Rita Mae Brown, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1997) by Rebecca Wells—across four chapters. These authors’ varying perspectives enable an exploration into the multiplicity of community. There is no one unified model of community; instead, there are a variety of community modes that women use to generate power beyond heteropatriarchal control. Looking at the various communities imagined in these novels also strengthens arguments against viewing the South as a monolith, building on recent southern studies scholarship that emphasizes a study of many Souths over one singular “The South.”
Gardner, Elizabeth Ashley, "Sisterhood Is What You Make It: Modes of Community in Southern Women's Fiction Since the 1970s" (2023). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 6064.
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