Eliminating barriers and expanding borders through white trash literature: a study of Dorothy Allison, Connie May Fowler, and Kaye Gibbons.

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Belcher, Rebecca
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Middle Tennessee State University
The phenomenon of whiteness studies seeks to eradicate racism by creating a definition of the white race based upon its distinctive characteristics rather than on what it is not. As this goal is reached, the literary canon will replace exclusionary paradigms with all-inclusive borders that recognize racial distinctiveness without bigotry, and the white race will be seen as providing only one of many perspectives from which a writer may view the world. While sociologists, cultural studies experts, and demographers have produced studies that expose the outdated norm of whiteness, southern fictional writers such as Dorothy Allison, Connie May Fowler, and Kaye Gibbons have deconstructed whiteness through characters who live in a white subculture.
This study focuses on Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), Connie May Fowler's Before Women Had Wings (1996), and Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster (1987) as literary works that approach the subject of white trash with honesty, depth, and sympathy. Each novel employs the narrative point of view of a young girl, the physical and psychological realities of abuse, and the appearance of the marginalized "other" as a savior for the abused child. The problem of whiteness is revealed through novels that are peopled with characters who embody all of the physical stereotypes of white trash and yet who elicit the readers' empathy. Identification with the characters breaks down the barrier of racial difference between white trash and other whites and between white trash and people of color.
To name part of the white race as an "other" is either to racialize it or to embrace white trash as a definitive part of what has been called whiteness. In the works of Allison, Fowler, and Gibbons, whiteness serves as more than background; it is examined and differentiated. In the process, each author creates permeable and accessible borders within the diverse cultures of America.
Major Professor: Will Brantley.