"I Seek the Level Lands Where Grow the Wild Prairie Flowers": The Landscape-Reliant Regionalism of Zitkala-Sa

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Date
2018-03-29
Authors
Carlson, Bridget
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Middle Tennessee State University
Abstract
This thesis draws on the ideas of Homi K. Bhabha’s hybridity, mimicry, and third space theory in conjunction with American regionalism, and situates Zitkala-Sa as a “landscape-reliant regionalist,” a term I coin to address her unique position in American literature. According to literary critic Donna Campbell, “Local color or regional literature is fiction and poetry that focuses on the characters, dialect, customs, topography, and other features particular to a specific region” (“Regionalism and Local Color Fiction”). However, this project suggests that regionalism manifests in a unique way in Zitkala-Sa’s work. Strictly speaking, regionalism’s characteristics do not apply to Zitkala-Sa’s writings, certainly not as easily as they do to other (and better known) women writers and prototypical regionalists such as Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman. Zitkala-Sa’s own customs were stripped away as a member of the Sioux tribe. In fact, since she was born on the Yankton reservation, she lacked exposure to the customs of her people because those customs barely existed in the reservation setting.
To complicate this view of Zitkala-Sa as a regionalist writer, I draw on Homi K. Bhabha’s theories of hybridity, mimicry, and third space to argue that Zitkala-Sa is best understood as what I term a “landscape-reliant regionalist.” I define landscape-reliant regionalism as a mode of writing attributed to individuals who write in the vein of local color fiction and/or regionalism, but whose work focuses on the land itself rather than cultural markers such as dialect or local customs. Zitkala-Sa embodies landscape-reliant regionalism since she has been severed from her culture and its practices and retains a relationship with the land itself. I argue that the other aspects of regionalism do not adequately describe Zitkala-Sa’s life, although she is included as a regionalist writer in passing in 2003’s Writing Out of Place (written by Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse), arguably one of the most important critical texts on the literary movement of regionalism.
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Keywords
Bhabha, Landscape-reliant regionalism, Regionalism, Zitkala-Sa
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