Date of Award

5-1-2013

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Klaver, Elizabeth

Abstract

This thesis discusses the effects, primarily on a person’s identity, caused by rural to urban migration during the 1920s and 1930s through investigating the migrations of four literary characters—Quentin Compson, George Webber, Jefferson Abbott, and Prudence Bly—developed by three American Modernist—William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Dawn Powell. I first explore the population trends and movements of Americans out of rural areas to urban ones. In doing so, various sociological theories and historical events are referenced in order to better provide evidence for the reasons for this type of migration, and more importantly, in concern with this study, to illustrate common effects due to rural to urban migration that are explored in depth in subsequent chapters through the examination of the aforementioned characters. Even though the migration of people out of rural areas for more urban centers has occurred ever since the division of those two communities, the interwar years in American society is a key period to consider because of the great social and economic changes that occurred during those two decades. Additionally, it is in this era that we first see clear signs that the United States was transitioning to an urban dominated society. Each of the four characters focused on in this work undergo a rural to urban migration during their young adult years. Because each character experiences this migration in a different way, the severity of the effects of his or her migration changes too. Three of the four characters—Quentin, George, and Prudence—must cope with an identity crisis that is brought to the forefront by their rural to urban migration. Quentin experiences feelings of guilt over his opportunities versus that of his brothers. More importantly, he is unable to rectify the conflict between his perceived identity and the identity placed upon him by the urban community to which he migrates, thus influencing his suicide. George is unable to see the extreme influence that the nostalgic view of his hometown has on the way he perceives the rest of the world. Therefore, he is also unable to recognize the power of time and the inevitability of change. Each time he is forced to see the falseness of his nostalgia, a crucial portion of his identity is dismantled, throwing him into a deep depression. Prudence—due to the arrival of Jefferson, a hometown sweetheart—is forced to reconcile the rural identity she has tried for a decade to forget and the urban one she spent a decade creating. Only at the end of the novel, does she realize that her identity is actually a compilation of both her rural and urban parts. The fourth character—Jefferson Abbott—is relatively unaffected by his migration, in large part due to the stability and confidence he has in his own identity.

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