Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

One Time, One Place? Richard Wright and Eudora Welty's Shared Visual Politics in the Depression Era

Date of Award

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Second Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Third Advisor

Leigh Anne Duck

Abstract

This thesis questions the absence of critical comparative studies of Mississippi-born authors Richard Wright and Eudora Welty. It argues that, though the authors' writing has traditionally been understood as residing on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they share a political vision of the rural South and urban North in the Depression era that is established in their documentary works—Wright's 12 Million Black Voices (1941) and Welty's One Time, One Place (1971)—and extends into such fictional works as Wright's "Big Boy Leaves Home" (1936) and Native Son (1941) and Welty's "Moon Lake" (1949) and "Flowers for Marjorie" (1941). In chapter one, I write Welty's and Wright's documentary work more firmly into the Depression-era documentary context that included Farm Security Administration photographers and popular documentaries to demonstrate how the authors both participate in common strategies of documentation and attempt to revise the problematic representations, methods, and messages found therein. I also outline the authors' established pedagogies, which instruct readers on how to read their work, and examine how critics have traditionally accepted such instructions and, lately, have begun to push back against them. In chapter two, I read the authors' documentary texts both according to and against the authors' pedagogical strategies, paying particular attention to their methods of captioning, framing, and otherwise confining the photographs and looking for moments when the photographs defy such efforts to send messages that conflict with the authors' carefully established narratives. The chapter finds that both authors' projects betray a tension between revealing their subjects and their experiences to their viewers and protecting them from potentially exploitative readings. This tension at times leads to contradictions within the texts themselves that reveal cracks in their carefully constructed messages. Finally, in chapter three, I argue that the authors' shared vision of Depression-era representation extends into their fictional works. I demonstrate how each author uses "fictional stills" to halt highly visual political moments and encourage the reader to look at the ways in which static representations of race and class confine and even destroy individual lives.

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