Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Arts in English, Literature
This study explores the role of the Southern mountain tradition and the Gothic mode in William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and James Dickey’s Deliverance. Using Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject, it argues that Faulkner and Dickey appropriated already Gothic elements of Appalachian history in order to create the Gothic characters and settings that would allow them to explore major cultural anxieties of their time. Chapter One gives a brief overview of Appalachian history from the Revolutionary War through 1970. It examines both factual material and fictional portrayals, including the miners’ union strikes of the early 1900s, Mary Murfree’s local color fiction, and the TVA films of the 1930s and 40s, among other highlights. Chapter One argues that Appalachia has historically served as an abject Other for urban America: it has allowed Americans to define themselves as modern by comparison while fascinating them with the allure of the primitive past. Chapter Two examines Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust, focusing on the Gowrie family as abject characters. Though scholarship traditionally dismisses the Gowries as stereotypical hillbilly characters, this chapter argues that they are crucial to the novel’s commentary on desegregation. The townspeople abject their deep-seated, buried shame over the violence of the lynch mob mentality onto the Gowries, defining themselves as not-Gowrie while joying in Gowrie-like behavior. As such, positioning the Gowries as abject allows Faulkner to explore and unsettle a major source of cultural anxiety within his contemporary South as he saw it. Finally, Chapter Three argues that James Dickey’s Deliverance exhibits a similar pattern: its narrator abjects his insecurities about his masculinity onto the mountain characters in the novel, exaggerating their physical flaws and defining himself as strong by comparison. Ed’s gender insecurities register the anxiety surrounding Southern white masculinity in the 1960s; ultimately, his ability to overcome this anxiety and triumph through tests of physical strength and survival skills is the ideal upheld by the novel. Therefore, much like the function of the Gowries in Intruder in the Dust, Deliverance’s abject mountain characters allow Dickey to examine a deep-seated Southern cultural anxiety of his time. The analysis of both texts also includes an examination of the historical elements appropriated by each author from Appalachian history, such as the naming of the Gowrie twins after the politicians who led the “rednecks’ revolt” of the early 1900s and the impending damming of the Cahulawassee in Deliverance, which mirrors the historical wilderness exploitation of Appalachia. Faulkner and Dickey use these instances of Appalachia’s Gothicized history to create many of the Gothic elements of both Intruder in the Dust and Deliverance, and this study argues that because of this appropriation of Appalachian history and the use of the abject hillbilly characters, each text relies on the Southern mountain tradition in order to use the Gothic mode to reveal major sources of cultural anxiety within each author’s contemporary South.
Peterson, Kathleen, ""The Country of Nine-Fingered People": The Southern Mountain Tradition and the Gothic in Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust and Dickey's Deliverance" (2013). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 630.