Pathologized subjects: Southern Gothic, white trash, and the discourse of "race" in the 1930's

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Harvey Teres

Second Advisor

Patricia Moody


Nineteen2, Gothic, Novels, Fiction, Journalism, Nonfiction, Southern Gothic, White trash, Race

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


This study delineates Southern Gothic during the period of its emergence into a distinct literary form, and looks at its further use (and usefulness to certain groups) as a way of knowing the South. I argue that a shift in national perception towards the South occurred during the 1930's, and that this shift not only enabled a new epistemology that understands the South as Gothic and peculiar, but reinforced on the level of ideology an already-established colonial economic relationship with the North. Using a methodology grounded in Continental philosophy and within the tradition of materialist cultural studies, I have focused primarily on literary works, but included readings of other cultural phenomena. I look at the early novels of William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell as well as fiction by Margaret Mitchell, H. E. Danford, James Still and Harriette Arnow. I look at a variety of critical, journalistic, and nonfiction work as well, by Ellen Glasgow, Donald Davidson, Henry Seidel Canby, John Campbell, Horace Kephart, John Day, and James Agee and Walker Evans.

This dissertation focuses on the figure of the poor-white or "white trash," a racially-charged class designation that serves to delineate Southern Gothic as unique, acknowledging direct links to earlier regional writings such as the local color and Southeastern humor fictions of the late nineteenth century. I use the perspectives of contemporary cultural studies and postcolonial thought to examine discourses from the decades preceding the emergence of Southern Gothic, including scientific eugenics, the Americanization movement, the rise of the middlebrow literary magazine, the imperial romance novel, the Western, and the novels of the plantation school.


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