Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Kathryn Mckee

Second Advisor

Jay Watson

Third Advisor

Leigh Anne Duck

Abstract

This thesis explores four contemporary novels set in the American South and analyzes the understandings of American pasts, perceptions of current social and political crises, and projections of possible future paths they contain. Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones tell stories of disasters the natures of which reflect prominent anxieties concerning the twenty-first century position of the United States as a global power. The total destruction leaving behind an unrecognizable nation that McCarthy imagines in his post-apocalyptic novel suggests the viewpoint that the degree to which the U.S. is indicted in the use of unethical practices and faulty ideologies must lead to an absolute dissolution of what the nation has stood for and a severing of community bonds. In Salvage the Bones, Ward portrays a less mysterious disaster in which recovery is possible, providing a conflicting perspective that the U.S. can and must rehabilitate a national identity from its troublesome past and problematic current circumstances. Dave Eggers' nonfiction book Zeitoun, which follows the travails of a Syrian-American unjustly imprisoned in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, exposes some of the reasons behind the occurrence of human rights violations in contemporary America, suggesting particularly that only the rights of certain individuals conforming to a narrative of American identity are recognized as fully human within the American imaginary. Finally, DBC Pierre's black comedy Vernon God Little traces the darkly humorous tale of a small Texas town's wildly inappropriate response to a school shooting to explore the factors that allow both violent crime and brutal punishment to continue their ravages on American society.

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