Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Jaime Harker

Second Advisor

Kathryn B. McKee

Third Advisor

Ethel Scurlock

Relational Format



This project explores the representation of minority groups in contemporary U.S. Southern literature, with a particular focus on Asian communities. It not only challenges the conventional perception that Asians in America are primarily associated with the West Coast but also underscores how Asian representation in literature plays a crucial role in illuminating the complexities of regional identity and social structure in the American South.

Historically, Asian immigrants have been part of the Southern landscape since the eighteenth century when Filipino sailors settled in New Orleans. Chinese immigrants also played essential roles as laborers in the post-slavery South. However, their experiences were conspicuously absent from Southern literature until the 1990s.

This dissertation examines the evolution of Southern studies from the “Southern Renascence” to “New Southern Studies.” It underscores the need to move beyond a focus on white upper-class life in Southern literature and explore narratives that transcend racial and gender boundaries.

The study examines four contemporary Southern novels that incorporate Asian perspectives: Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student, Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth, and Cynthia Shearer’s The Celestial Jukebox. These novels explore themes like language barriers, the Korean immigrant experience during the Cold War, the Vietnamese immigrant experience, cultural identity, and the contribution of Chinese immigrants to Mississippi Delta culture.

The central argument of this dissertation is that the inclusion of Asian voices enriches the understanding of Southern identity, literature, and culture. It also sheds light on the enduring impact of historical events like the Korean and Vietnam Wars on immigrants and their descendants. By exploring the experiences of Asian communities, this research challenges the conventional notion of a uniform Southern identity and emphasizes the region’s diversity.

Ultimately, this project aims to rectify the lack of scholarly attention given to the Asian presence in the South. It contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the U.S. South and its complex cultural tapestry, inviting readers to question established narratives and adopt a more inclusive perspective that acknowledges the diverse voices within the region.



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