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Tomboys, Belles, and Other Ladies: The Female Body-Subject in Selected Works by Katherine Anne Porter and Carson McCullers
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
2005 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates how the Southern writers Katherine Anne Porter and Carson McCullers negotiate the process of becoming a woman in their texts and expose and ridicule the artificiality of that category. Focusing on a selection of Porter’s “Miranda stories” (published between 1935 and 1941) and “The Princess” (1993) and McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), The Member of the Wedding (1946), and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1943), I argue that both writers voice their protest against patriarchal society that forecloses women’s assumption of subjectivity. Using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s and Simone de Beauvoir’s theory of “being-in-the-world,” which rejects the notion of a mechanistic body but understands the mind as always embodied, and Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of the female body-subject, I show how Porter and McCullers find a reciprocal relationship with others, as Beauvoir advocates it, impossible; in patriarchal society woman is always cast as the Other. Yet, while both writers criticize patriarchal violence and often use the same means to challenge and ridicule rigid gender norms, there are differences in their perception of identity. Porter suggests that the concept of identity as constantly changing and unfixed does not exist in Southern plantation society, the Old Order. But even when “being-in-the-world” becomes, in fact, possible after the demise of the Old Order, this dialectical relationship is disturbed and experienced as threatening and burdensome. McCullers, on the other hand, expresses a strong desire for ambiguity and change. McCullers suggests, I argue, that an ideal way of being in the world–“becoming”–can be achieved by a suspension of gender boundaries. Only then is it possible for a woman to engage in a reciprocal relationship with others as she no longer regards her body as a prison.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 2005. , 182 p.
Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, ISSN 0562-2719 ; 125
Keyword [en]
English language, Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Miranda stories”, “The Princess”, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of the Sad Café, female body-subject, subjectivity, reciprocal relationship, “being-in-the-world”, “becoming”, habituality, pathology, mimicry, performance, the abject
Keyword [sv]
National Category
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Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-5846ISBN: 91-554-6185-9OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-5846DiVA: diva2:166611
Public defence
2005-05-21, Geijersalen, SVC, Villavägen 4, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 2005-04-28 Created: 2005-04-28 Last updated: 2015-12-03Bibliographically approved

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