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The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress

Poor White Women in Southern Literature of the Great Depression

Ashley Craig Lancaster

Publication Year: 2012

In The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress, Ashley Craig Lancaster examines how converging political and cultural movements helped to create dualistic images of southern poor white female characters in Depression-era literature. While other studies address the familial and labor issues that challenged female literary characters during the 1930s, Lancaster focuses on how the evolving eugenics movement reinforced the dichotomy of altruistic maternal figures and destructive sexual deviants. According to Lancaster, these binary stereotypes became a new analogy for hope and despair in America’s future and were well utilized by Depression-era politicians and authors to stabilize the country’s economic decline. As a result, the complexity of women’s lives was often overlooked in favor of stock characters incapable of individuality. Lancaster studies a variety of works, including those by male authors William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, and John Steinbeck, as well as female novelists Mary Heaton Vorse, Myra Page, Grace Lumpkin, and Olive Tilford Dargan. She identifies female stereotypes in classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and in the work of later writers Dorothy Allison and Rick Bragg, who embrace and share in a poor white background. The Angelic Mother and the Predatory Seductress reveals that these literary stereotypes continue to influence not only society’s perception of poor white southern women but also women’s perception of themselves.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies

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pp. ix-x

this work has been influenced by a great number of people who have supported me and my research. I would like to offer a sincere thank you to my . . .

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pp. 1-12

in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison asserts that “white freedom” is based on a “parasitical nature” (57) which creates the . . .

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1. EUGENICS AND POLITICS: Unlikely Unions and the Stereotyping of the Southern Poor White Woman

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pp. 13-44

during the late 1920s and the 1930s, representations of poor white women in literature became dominated by the issue of motherhood. In fact, because . . .

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2. QUESTIONING THE EUGENIC AGENDA: Faulkner, Caldwell, and Steinbeck—Three Responses to America’s “Social Responsibility”

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pp. 45-97

during the 1930s, as the nation seemingly banded together, even reconciling opposing political viewpoints, a desire to rebuild America’s economy emerged . . .

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3. MAKING THE EUGENIC “MYTH” A REALITY: The Fictionalizing of Depression-Era Documentary Work

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pp. 98-133

along with william faulkner’s, Erskine Caldwell’s, and John Steinbeck’s fictional representations, the Depression also provided a fertile ground for . . .

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4. UP FROM EUGENICS: The Gastonia Novels and the Redefining of the Southern Poor White Woman

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pp. 134-183

because the dualistic images of poor white women as either altruistic mothers or sexual degenerates appeared in “scientific” studies, government-supported . . .

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pp. 184-187

despite the attempts by the “Gastonia novelists,” Vorse, Page, Lump kin, and Dargan, to portray poor white southern women outside of the dualistic stereotypes . . .


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pp. 189-201


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780807144466
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807144459

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies