Gender Representation in a Contemporary Literary Canon of Southern Literature
Susan Dean, English
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Southern literature is rooted in traditional Southern identity and values, but it has adopted contemporary thoughts and characteristics while detaching from conventional yet troublesome ideas. Three exemplary novels are to be considered as candidates for a contemporary literary canon of Southern literature: Saints at the River by Ron Rash, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. Before selecting a novel for the canon, it is important to analyze each novel’s sense of Southern identity and each author’s adaptation to cultural changes regarding gender and gender representation – specifically for female characters – in literature. Comparing the representation of female characters by a male author – Ron Rash – with a female author – Fannie Flagg and Toni Morrison – through Southern literature and accompanied research will provide a better understanding of the significance of gender portrayal, roles, and stereotypes in literature. Ron Rash’s Saints at the River demonstrates characteristics of Southern literature through its setting, themes, conflict, Southern identity, and vivid imagery. The male author’s representation and portrayal of women in the novel, however, seems rooted in traditional stereotypes and denotes inconsistency in character development. Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café exhibits characteristics of Southern identity in setting, characters, themes, transition between past and present events, social issues, and overall language. Flagg, a female author, created female characters that break gender norms, roles, and stereotypes while also suffering with realistic issues such as abuse and depression. Toni Morrison’s Beloved incorporates Southern themes of identity, slavery, abuse, sexism, and racism. Morrison, an African American female author, highlights themes beyond gender norms and stereotypes; light is shed on both racial oppression and women’s oppression that African American women face daily. There are numerous areas of research regarding the representation of female characters by male authors in comparison to female authors. Some critics believe male authors cannot and will not accurately portray female characters in literature. Others believe male authors exaggerate descriptions of female characters because they associate emotional and descriptive language with female characters, not male characters. Regardless of the specific belief, research clearly supports the argument that male authors represent female characters in a different way than female authors. Of the three novels, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café proves to be the most qualified candidate for the contemporary literary canon of Southern literature. The novel represents countless elements of Southern literature and bridges the gap between traditional Southern identity and contemporary Southern identity. The novel also effectively represents women through its many female protagonists and feminist themes, which simply confirms the novel’s rightful place on a contemporary literary canon of Southern literature.
student research, literature
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English Language and Literature
Bailey, Madison, "Gender Representation in a Contemporary Literary Canon of Southern Literature" (2021). JSU Student Symposium 2021. 4.