Sewanee: School of Letters Theses 2020


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 4 of 4
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    When Can I Go Home? A Dramatic Nonfiction in Three Acts
    (University of the South, 2020-05) Bley, C. Charles
    An autobiography, presented in dramatic form, combining elements of stage play, audiovisual exhibit and stem lecture. Disembodied, prerecorded character voices and video-based scenery and text are inbuilt, to enrich the experience of the story’s themes in a theater setting, as well as to limit cast and venue size. As it appears in print. When Can I Co Home? is equal parts atypically structured nonfiction and augmented play script. These parts overlap most noticeably in, for example, the irregular use of stage directions. The narration in this work is done through multiple incarnations of the main character at different ages, guided by their present-day self, identified as Bley. These characters interact with each other, with other characters, and, to an extent, with a hypothetical audience. Bley's presence remains essentially constant. The implication—of an ongoing and literal dialogue with his past, punctuated by inclusion in the scenery of a laptop computer on a desk behind which Bley is often sitting—is that he is combing through and writing his life story piece by piece, publicly, with assistance from and in the company of his predecessors. Together, they lay bare years of unsavory personal details; Reflection and self-examination are frequently involved. When Can I Co Home? is not solipsistic, however. Its psychological and social themes are broadly applicable and, with the exception of the six-year-old version of Bley, each of the narrators understands this. As much as Bley appears to need the autobiographical task completed for his own peace of mind, he takes full advantage of his access to a captive audience—to force them to recognize the Bleys in their own lives. The frustration and disillusionment motivating he and his younger selves manifest most palpably in Act 111, where the tone (especially in Bley’s monologues) builds to downright accusatory, confrontational. Bley comes by it honestly, if he is to be believed. And, to offset his rancor, there is plenty of humor, especially that of a self-deprecating it's perfectly okay to laugh at my pain nature. Chronologically, each of the story’s three acts strikes a different balance between its underlying straight timeline and context-based forward and backward digressions. Each act also compresses its base timeline differently. Most of Act 1 takes place within a ten-day period. Act 11 covers ten years. While touching farther back in time than Acts 1 and 11, Act 111 also fills in gaps pertaining to the thirteen years from Act Il’s end to the story’s present day. The present here is the “stage’", where all interaction between the narrators takes place. Per the stage directions, it is the living room of Bley’s current residence, which itself is the setting of various stories in When Can I Co Home? Whether a set on the stage or a room on the page, this is the where and when of Bley’s writing process. Although his entire life is examined over the course of the three acts, the main timeline—from the Act 1 chapter “June 29, 2001” to the final present-tense scene near the end of Act 111—begins with an inciting incident: the death of Bley’s best friend and first love, Sam. It is not made clear whether Sam appears in any active form other than as one of the disembodied voices, i.e., in Bley’s imagination and memory. Her image is only necessarily denoted in mentions of still photos, or, the integration of such photos into supplemental video projections. Visitations and funeral services for Sam are the crux of Act I. Much of what follows in acts II and III purports to stem from Bley’s experience with her death, fused with the other major themes in When Can 1 Go Home?', search for place, family dysfunction, substance abuse, and mental illness.
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    "This World is Not His World": Disability and Marginalization in the Novels of William Faulkner
    (University of the South, 2020-05) Connolly, Gregory
    The novels of William Faulkner are populated with physically and mentally exceptional characters, offering diverse portraits of disability. This thesis employs the critical lens of disability studies to examine a distinct cluster of disabled characters in The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Sanctuary (1931). Within this trio of consecutively published novels, disability shapes male characters’ physicalities (Cash Bundren and Popeye), cognitions (Benjy Compson and Tommy), and psychologies (Quentin Compson and Darl Bundren), and each manifestation of disability engenders unique social degradations and intersectionalities with other marginalized groups. Because disability disrupts the ‘normal’ social constructs of white patriarchy in these novels, society marginalizes disabled male characters through stigmatization, forced institutionalization, and displays of violence. Disability is a defining feature of Faulkner’s South, and it figures into larger discourses on race, gender, and sexuality.
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    Place, Palimpsest, and Memory in Willa Cather's My Antonio
    (University of the South, 2020-05) Stewart, Jennifer
    Since its inception, ecocriticism has evolved into a multifaceted critical literary theory. Of those facets, place-studies has emerged as a unique critical lens with which to examine not only physical place but also intimate place in literature. Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia lends itself easily to ecocritical approaches of various kinds, and while a discussion of physical place in the novel is a viable examination in itself, I look at place in Cather’s novel in a way that acknowledges geography but also looks beyond the physical into a more intimate aspect of place: memory. Cather’s Nebraska prairie remains firmly established among “canonical literature’s [most] famous imagined countries,” according to Lawrence Buell, but as one would expect in a novel very much invested in ideas of immigrant experience and migration, the novel hardly limits itself to Nebraska, recalling geographic places from many places in the U.S. and Europe. These varied places find connection here not only by way of physical mobility but also through shared stories and memories. Memory figures both prominently and pivotally in the novel, of course, as the frame introduction establishes the text as a collection of Jim Burden’s memories. But as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Jim’s memories are heavily augmented by others’ memories and stories. Both memory and the physical landscape share similar layered and composite characteristics. In my thesis I show that just as the land holds layers of story (both readable and unreadable) there are similar layers of story within memory: two palimpsests, neither defining the other but both informing the other. I begin with a discussion of the evolution of place studies and introduce the theorists Yi-Fu Tuan, Gaston Bachelard, and Lawrence Buell. From there I address the critical difference between common literary setting vs. place. And a discussion of memory in Cather’s writing must acknowledge the strong connection of Cather’s own memories with her writing. Though Jim indicates that “the thing about Antonia . . . hasn’t any form,” the novel’s structure progressively reveals both layers of the natural world, layers of geography, layers of memory, and the significance of each. From here, I examine the novel’s frame introduction that highlights memory as impetus for Jim’s narrative and creates the earliest sense of a palimpsest of geography (Iowa, New York, and Nebraska) and a palimpsest of memory (the narrator’s shared [but ultimately unwritten] memories of Ántonia alongside Jim’s). I discuss collective memory in the novel as Jim’s memories are often augmented by many stories from other characters essentially becoming memories of experiences he never had (for example, Peter and Pavel’s story of the wedding party). Remembering and forgetting figure notably in the novel and I discuss this binary as it relates to the larger nature vs. culture conflict. The struggle between the two informs much of the interior of the novel and also leads to an analysis of the spatial language used in the novel. I argue that Cather uses this spatial language to illustrate a literal, physical palimpsest of humans struggling to find an equilibrium between dominance and defeat from within the natural world. Jim’s reunion with Ántonia after twenty years recalls the novel’s frame introduction and provides the novel with a satisfying denouement, but it also calls to the fore the significant gap in his memories regarding her. My discussion ends by addressing how Antonia’s memories hold their own both against and among Jim’s memories in these final chapters of the novel. As they do, they allow the reader to read beyond (under) Jim’s text to a more layered and less romanticized picture of Ántonia, while Jim’s words indicate a turn away from this vital and dynamic Ántonia of the present in favor of the curated Ántonia of his memories.
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    Wilder Tower: A Novel
    (University of the South, 2020-05) Fleissner, Ward
    Wilder Tower tells the story of a young woman from the Southern aristocracy who goes to work in an all-male newsroom in 1979. Two fellow reporters strive to win her—a romantic poet born into the wrong century and a sexually voracious war veteran—both drawn to her vulnerability and latent passion. Complications ensue, violently disrupting the status quo, with tragic consequences. Two narrators present the newsroom drama: an impulsive male colleague obsessed with the Civil War, and an older woman with a lifetime of thwarted ambitions and bitter relationships. The novel’s events precisely follow the timeline of the Iran hostage crisis, 444 days that haunted the American psyche and still resonate today.