The Evolving Southern Gothic: Traditions of Racial, Gender, and Sexual Horror in the Imagined American South
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In this dissertation, “The Evolving Southern Gothic: Traditions of Racial, Gender, and Sexual Horror in the Imagined American South,” I advocate a reclaiming of the Gothic as a critical lens for study of literature set in the American South. The term “Southern Gothic” is one that has been maligned by a some scholars who suggest it is too-readily applied to the region’s literature; however, because Gothic tropes—including grotesque figures, haunted houses, ghosts, and vampires—have enjoyed increasing popularity in literature and film about the American South over the past eighty years, it is imperative to theorize more fully the effects of this modal/regional pairing. Oftentimes, the Gothic is invoked to convey the oppressiveness of corrupt establishments or ideologies; it is little surprise, then, that when it is applied to a region with a unique history of slavery, lynching and prolonged segregation, the Southern Gothic frequently works to undercut institutionalized racism. However, the strategic ways in which Southern Gothic texts tend to link race to issues of gender and sexuality are rather more unexpected. Examining the trajectory of this repeated connection between race, gender, and sexuality in a variety of “Southern Gothic” texts from 1930 to the present, I argue that as opposed to simply rehashing the brutal racism of a Civil War or Jim Crow-era South, authors and filmmakers have used this literary mode not only to highlight the constructedness of racial caste systems, gender and sexual norms, and Southern exceptionalism but also to critique the often violent means through which these divisions are manufactured and upheld.
Cothren, Claire Renae (2015). The Evolving Southern Gothic: Traditions of Racial, Gender, and Sexual Horror in the Imagined American South. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from