Identifier

etd-06302010-155903

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

This dissertation explores how four modernist writers of the 1930s and 1940s—William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Delmore Schwartz, and Eudora Welty—used their works to present ways to resist and navigate what they present as the frequently reductive worldview offered by the culture industry. Faulkner tends to show the culture industry as selling easy answers that focus on the end result, which allows his characters to approach the culture industry with a sense of fatalism. To resist this, Faulkner stresses a step-by-step, complex dialectical understanding of the culture industry, one that shows the fissures in its seemingly straightforward narratives and allows the reader to see how the narratives of the culture industry are not totalizing and can be resisted. Richard Wright, with his Native Son (1940), has written a better piece of mass culture, one that both gives the reader what he wants and helps show how the pleasures of mass culture are tied to a racist system. More than any of the other writers I’m discussing, Wright courts a wide audience by expertly using the tropes of various popular forms of the late 1930s—movies, crime novels, gothic fiction, newspapers, protest novels—and then adds an extra layer of analysis that explores how these pieces of mass culture are not ideologically neutral. One of the protagonists in a Delmore Schwartz story compares a movie to the Oracle at Delphi, which gave prophesies enigmatic enough to allow differing interpretations. The masses in Schwartz’s stories approach mass culture looking for simple entertainment, and that’s what they get. The conflicted artist figures who are the protagonists of Schwartz’s stories approach mass culture more complexly, and Schwartz shows how an artistically inclined mind can find much of value in mass culture if he knows what to look for. Eudora Welty, finally, shows mass culture as something that can help compound a sense of (frequently female) alienation. For Welty, it is small moments of emotional connection that allow people to find a way out of the totalizing system of mass culture.

Date

2010

Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Moreland, Richard

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