Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Second Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Third Advisor

Jaime Harker

Abstract

This thesis examines the function of the circus and the sideshow in the work of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Katherine Anne Porter, arguing that all of these authors employ Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque as a reaction to and against the expectations put on them as women who are pressured to conform to the Southern ideal. In the first chapter, I argue that Eudora Welty uses the carnivalesque to reveal the performativity of normalcy in both “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” (1937) and “A Memory” (1937). These performances, in the first story particularly, offer a critique of the eugenics movement that was popular at the time. In the second chapter, I argue that O’Connor’s work queers the heterosexual ideal of the Southern lady both inside the circus tent, where a hermaphrodite becomes both preacher and the Virgin Mary, and outside of the tent, in a comical waiting room where the anti-Southern belle becomes a powerful prophet and the main character’s moves towards grace coincides with a move towards disfigurement. For O’Connor, the chaste religion associated with the protestant ideal of the Southern lady serves as a humorous construction, and real revelation comes only when freaks are first in line to heaven. In chapter three, I focus particularly on the idea of carnivalesque laughter in Porter’s fiction, examining both “The Circus” (1934) and “Holiday” (1960). Porter’s early story “The Circus” becomes almost a parody of the carnivalesque, where the power of the patriarchy erases any possibility of momentary transgression or freedom even during carnival; however, “Holiday,” published much later in her life, serves as a sort of anecdote for this dire prediction. Through these two stories I will trace the evolution of carnivalesque laughter in Porter’s fiction, which turns from terrifyingly cruel to hopeful.

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