Date of Award

5-26-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Audrey Goodman - Chair

Second Advisor

Thomas L. McHaney

Third Advisor

Elizabeth West

Abstract

As women began to establish themselves in the United States workforce in the first half of the twentieth century, one especial group of career women, women writers, began to use the space of their self-authored life writing narratives to inscribe their own understanding of themselves. Roundly criticized for not adhering to conventional autobiographical standards, these women writers used purposeful political strategies of resistance to craft self-authored life writing works that varied widely from the genre of autobiography. Rather than employ the usual ways critiquing autobiographical texts, I explore a deeper understanding of what these prescient women sought to do. Through revision of the terminology of the field and in consideration of a wide variety of critics and approaches, I argue that these women intentionally employed resistance in their writings. In Dust Tracks on A Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston successfully established her own sense of herself as a black woman, who could also comment on political issues. Her fellow Southerner, Eudora Welty in One Writer’s Beginnings (1984), used orality to deliberately showcase her view of her own life. Another Southern writer, Lillian Smith in Killers of the Dream, employed an overtly social science approach to tell the life narrative of all white Christian Southerners, and described how she felt the problems of racism should be overcome. Anzia Yezierska, a Russian émigré to the United States, used an Old World European understanding of storytelling to refashion an understanding of herself as a writer and at the same time critiqued the United States in her work, Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950). Mary Austin, a Western woman writer, saw Earth Horizon as an opportunity to reclaim the fragmentation of a woman’s life as a positive, rather than a negative space.

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