Carson McCullers and Modernism

No Thumbnail Available
Johnson, Margaret Anne
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
To read Carson McCullers solely through the lenses of autobiography, Southern regionalism, or the Gothic—as many scholars and critics have done in the past—is to neglect her artistry as a writer who also scrutinized and worked within the aesthetics and thematics of American modernism. McCullers presented the complexities of modernity itself: the desire to make meaning in an impersonal society; the sense that institutions of the past no longer function in the present; the questioning of a larger purpose when "truth" itself seems artificially constructed; and the need to erase the distance between the self and “other” because “othering” produces racial and ethnic discrimination, particularly in the American South where McCullers was born and bred.
This dissertation thus examines McCullers's modernist aesthetics and themes, beginning with her use of experimentation, specifically the ways in which she utilizes and manipulates musical forms to structure her fictions. I investigate McCullers’s two most frequently recurring themes, isolation and alienation: isolation as a form of sequestration, and alienation in both its conscious and unconscious dimensions. With a focus on adolescent angst, motherhood, and nurture, I examine the quests for identity that mark the author's fictional landscapes. Finally, I explore her attempts to erase the boundaries that define racial and social “others.” I thereby reveal the ways in which McCullers addressed the sociopolitical issues of her day, including racism, anti-Semitism, and the economic disparities in her native South.
Carson McCullers’s found ways to expand upon the modernist preoccupations of other early to mid twentieth-century writers, including friend and sometime housemate W. H. Auden. This dissertation therefore asserts that, autobiographical elements and a narrow scope of themes notwithstanding, McCullers deserves a place in the literary canon of major writers who, with great artistry, dared to address the social, moral, and ideological problems of racism, classism, and economic disfranchisement that plagued the United Stated during its modern era.
Alienation, Formal Literary Experimentatio, Identity, Isolation, Modernism, "The Other"