Renouncing Restrictive Narratives: The Southern Lady and Female Creativity in the Works of Lee Smith and Gail Godwin.
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In this study, I analyze how restrictive female narratives hinder women's creativity in the works of two contemporary Southern women novelists, Lee Smith and Gail Godwin. I focus primarily on the narrative of the Southern lady, how it has changed over the past century and a half, but how it still represses many Southern women. By demanding that women conform to a predetermined definition of who or what they can become, the narrative of the Southern lady asks women to become static images and stifles their individual creativity. Moreover, the class-consciousness and emphasis on appearances that the narrative requires encourages women to isolate themselves from their communities and keeps them from developing healthy relationships with family and friends. Not all of Smith and Godwin's heroines, however, are defeated by restrictive female narratives. Their most recent works celebrate female artists, women who are able to create original lives for themselves. They are not always artists in the traditional sense of creating a product, but they are artists in that they are authors of their lives. Godwin and Smith's female artists must balance their individual needs against their duties to others. Since traditional narratives for women have for so long required women to be self-denying and nurturing, to the neglect of their personal discovery and fulfillment, women do not find it easy to balance their needs against the needs of others. Godwin questions whether or not women can possibly find the time and energy needed to develop themselves and their art within the traditional roles of wife and motherhood, which demand so much time, energy, and denial. Smith acknowledges this dilemma as well, but she is more concerned with validating a neglected form of female art that is private and nurturing in nature, and her artists are often more comfortable with their roles as wives and mothers. However, both Smith and Godwin acknowledge that their artists' struggle to create original lives is an ongoing process that requires the courage to use one's imagination and reject prescriptive narratives such as that of the Southern lady.
Wesley, Deborah Rae, "Renouncing Restrictive Narratives: The Southern Lady and Female Creativity in the Works of Lee Smith and Gail Godwin." (1994). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 5767.