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"At the Expense of Normalcy": A Queer Reading of Carson McCullers' Middle Works

Lenviel, Claire (2012) "At the Expense of Normalcy": A Queer Reading of Carson McCullers' Middle Works. Masters thesis, Radford University.

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Abstract

In her middle works – The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Ballad of the Sad Café – Carson McCullers offers a radically subversive critique of heteronormative discourses of gender, sexuality, and the body. Anticipating later poststructuralist theories of gender and sexuality, she reveals these discourses to be coercive in their attempts to categorize and foreclose sexual desire. This thesis explores how McCullers’ fiction unveils and subsequently subverts the operations of these discourses. Grounding its analysis in poststructural and psychoanalytic theories of gender and sexuality, including those of Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Monique Wittig, this thesis suggests that McCullers’ works contest heteropatriarchy and its efforts at regulating human desire. The first chapter explores how The Member of the Wedding reveals gender to be performative; it argues that gender functions as a compulsory pattern of behavior and identity that causes social alienation for those who do not conform. The second chapter examines Reflections in a Golden Eye and its critique of obligatory social contracts and cultural taboos regarding sexuality. It argues that McCullers exposes how dominant discourses attempt to regulate sexuality into socially appropriate categories and behaviors. The chapter concludes by demonstrating how McCullers represents all human sexuality as fundamentally queer, that is, constantly spilling over or exceeding the categories meant to regulate it. The final chapter analyzes how The Ballad of Sad Café comments upon cultural freakishness, revealing the grotesque body to be a manifestation of social nonconformity and a cause for social alienation. Ultimately, through its pervasive use of poststructural theory in the analysis of Carson McCullers’ works, this thesis distinguishes itself from other McCullers scholarship, much of which claims that she argues for recognition of and respect for queer beings as a marginalized minority. In contrast, this thesis argues that her work offers a radically subversive perception of all sexual desire as fundamentally queer.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: UNSPECIFIED
Depositing User: Ms. Claire Lenviel
Date Deposited: 29 May 2013 14:10
Last Modified: 29 May 2013 14:10
URI: http://wagner.radford.edu/id/eprint/58

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