Date of Award

5-1-2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Klaver, Elizabeth

Abstract

The American South is a rich source of literature that combines the humorous and the horrific in its attempts to explain and expose the region's deep-seated social turmoil. One of the most prolific genres to come out of the South is southern gothic literature that, though not always humorous is known for its use of grotesque imagery and reliance on highly charged melodramatic narratives. When these works are comic, they don't merely reflect the region's strife but attempt to transform it. This dissertation looks at how southern gothic writers Beth Henley, Fannie Flagg and Flannery O'Connor use dark comedy in their works as defiant acts designed to question the status quo and reform the southern landscape by creating ruptures where marginalized people can assert themselves into the norms of American culture. Drawing on several different definitions of comedy, including Barecca's works on female narratives and linguistic theories of jokes, this work defines dark comedy and identifies where humor and horror come together in the works of these southern gothic writers to form particularly dark comic moments. Then, it uses Butler's theory of sites of rupture to explain how dark comedy can be transformative. In Giving an Account of Oneself, Butler explains Foucault's regime of truth as a system that is always both self-reflexive and social - a system where the norms that govern recognition create boundaries where subjects are formed. She goes on to conclude that ruptures can occur within the "horizon of normativity" whereby those relegated to the margins can gain entry and be encompassed within the governing norms. Dark comedy, then, occurs at or even creates that site of rupture in the individual and in the society that experiences it, and allows for the individual, and by extension society, to change its understanding of what is normal and resides within the margins. Within the text, then, dark comedy changes the governing norms to include the once marginalized oddities.

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