Disability and the gothic in southern women's literature




Piwarski, Rachel (Rachel Ann), 1991-

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Disability and the Gothic in Southern Women’s Writing connects intersectional disability studies to American literature. The gothic works of mid-twentieth century writers Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, ZZ Packer uncover how female writers strikingly subvert social expectations of normativity and propriety to resist narratives that favor white homogeneity by using a grotesque lens. Conventionally, the grotesque is often associated with disabled people, but I explore how the authors use this literary trope indiscriminately with all characters to reveal the difficulty of living with physical or mental differences in the respective regions they focus on in the South: rural communities, industrial towns, and the metropolis. I argue that disability remains at the heart of this literature because it uncovers cultural attitudes that embolden those in power to marginalize people outside of a straight, white, male, and able-bodied position in largely rural settings. To enact their subversion, these female writers use the gothic literary mode to communicate stories that reflect horror and history. This dissertation explores disability as it relates to mother-daughter relationships and institutionalization, the misfit other and harmful spectating in coming-of-age stories, and power dynamics in various social settings. Instead of casting disabled figures as the primary targets of this grotesque mode, I look to grotesque depictions of other abled-bodied characters within stories that center disability, where authors notably apply the grotesque to non-disabled characters. Using this tactic allows writers to illustrate that genuinely horrific traits can be found within the face of the oppressor.



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