Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

Southern Noir: Appropriations and Alterations of a Twentieth-Century Form

Author

Bob Hodges

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Jay Watson

Second Advisor

Benjamin Fisher

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Abstract

Southern noir conjoins the two seemingly antithetical words in a telling fashion. The word noir conjures images of cheap films about detectives, criminals, and luckless men scurrying across a city at night with expressionistic shadows and light play, a foreboding sense of doom, and deadly seductive femmes fatales nipping at their heels. The understanding of noir as a symptom of urban modernity inextricably linked to cities and cinema stands in stark contrast to the traditional understanding of the south as rural, retrograde, and a repository for all the antiquated, “coercive forms of human society” in labor and social practices (Greeson 3). However, this study contends that certain works of twentieth century southern literature and film can best be understood as a part of the popular form of noir. Southern noir becomes an alternate way to conceptualize the darkness of much of southern literature and film. On the other hand, southern noir promises to better explain the origins of noir and its racialized, chiaroscuro style as springing for the colonial experiences of the plantation economy. This study examines William Faulkner's Sanctuary as an early fracturing of the noir narrative, the William Wyler film The Letter (1940) as a film noir operating in the global southern imaginary, and three stories from Richard Wright's Eight Men as parodic reappropriations of noir narratives for black protagonists. Southern noir provides an opportunity for the productive meeting of scholarship from both southern and noir studies as well as the beginnings of a reevaluation of two of the most distinctive narrative productions of twentieth century America: southern literature and film with romans noirs and films noirs.

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