Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This project examines four Southern women writers—Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty—who use the genre of the short story and the setting of the farm or insular living space to critique Southern regional identity. I argue that the social critiques of these southern female short story writers have been overlooked because stereotypes rooted in the fantasy of the idealized southern woman has limited critical perceptions of these authors’ engagements with cultural or political issues, when in reality their short fiction helped to influence the shifting expectations of the mid-twentieth century South. This study provides a new perspective on the women’s voices who had been marginalized because of their region, gender and choice of genre. My research acknowledges the contributions of Roberts, O’Connor, Porter, and Welty to the changing norms of the second quarter of the twentieth century South and works to recover Roberts as important voice of southern change. Their work reveals some of the small moments of transition that helped create change in the South, particularly for its women. In the stories I examine, each author presents a flawed model of society and focuses on the factors that make it flawed. For Roberts, it is the false idolization of the past; for O’Connor, the limitations of the ideals of southern womanhood; for Porter, the social constraints of a provincial society; and for Welty, the available roles for blacks. Some of the stories indicate a path for improvement that allows for a more hopeful future. All of the stories can be read as parallel lessons for the South to discard its constricting Old South ideals.