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date: 18 October 2019

Representations of Women in Southern Literature

Summary and Keywords

The myths of southern women include mammies, belles, ladies, and mulattos. In southern fiction, drama, poetry, and memoir, these categories of women are both perpetuated and disrupted. Much southern literature also portrays these stereotypes as independent women deliberately confronting the systems of oppression including patriarchy, slavery, and racism. Such independent women struggle for and often attain agency. Other literary characters are more succinctly called rebels, openly fighting against class, social, economic, and racist constraints. Many representations of women in southern literature were popularized in the 19th century by northerner Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and in the 20th century by southerner Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind (1936). Between these two novels, with new publications of 19th-century fictions by African Americans, and from the 1940s into the 21st century, concurrent with modernism, feminism, and increased publication opportunities, women in southern literature are often depicted seeking agency, finding voice, and acting independently. Representations of antebellum southern women as mothers, black and white, illustrate the enormous difficulties of birthing and nurturing children to adulthood. Mothers, daughters, sisters, and young girls (black and white) in the 20th century evidence a diminishing presence of the southern past as well as vastly changing family dynamics. In southern literature of the 21st century, women vigorously explore their sexualities, races, ethnicities, social and economic classes confluent with a redefined global south, climate change, drug epidemics, and political activism. Women in 21st-century southern literature successfully challenge the hegemony of white authors and white characters and the binary of black and white.

Keywords: mammy, belle, lady, mulatto, independent woman, rebel, mother, daughter, sister, agency

The U.S. South began to identify itself as distinct from the North when the founding fathers debated federal versus state rights, rights that might be described as industrial versus agricultural interests. Slavery and the economies that the institution made possible, secession of the Confederate States, the Civil War, and Reconstruction defined the South as a distinguishable region that then had an identifiable literature. Traditional aspects of southern literature as described by Barbara Ladd include being “characterized by a strong sense of place, based on memory, insularity, and a tragic history of defeat in the Civil War (the South was taken to be white) . . . express[ing] the ‘universal’ values of honor, chivalry toward women, gentleness with subordinates (the South was taken to be male and privileged).”1 Such representations of women in southern literature are found in the stereotypes of the belles and ladies, and as Ladd indicates, because the South (and by default, its literature) was white and male, women of color and women not enmeshed in the myths of the war or the Lost Cause were seemingly ignored. These “others” came to be represented in the typified images of mammies and mulattoes. Yet, the most memorable literary mammies, belles, ladies, and mulattos are not static stereotypes but are dynamic individuals of self-determination who break the constraints of racial, social, political, and patriarchal boundaries. Judith Lowder Newton asserts that authors who “subvert masculine control and male domination . . . quietly giving emphasis to female capability” create women characters who are, like themselves, not restrained by predetermined ways of behaving. Newton continues, “In choosing to focus on female ability,” such writers exert “a form of agency, of resistance to dominant values.”2

Nonetheless, the complacent mammy character became fixed in history by northern abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The mammy figure was reified in the 20th century by Victor Fleming’s film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936). More nuanced are Mammy in Mitchell’s novel (although still without a name) and Dilsey Gibson in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929). The stereotypes of the southern belle and southern lady, standard tropes in antebellum literature beginning with John Pendleton Kennedy’s Bel Tracy in Swallow Barn (1832), are carried forward into southern literature of the 20th century by Mitchell and Tennessee Williams, for example. The mulatto in southern literature is represented by Clotel in William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel, by Harriet Jacobs in Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Iola Leroy in Harper’s 1892 novel, Vyry Ware in Margaret Walker’s Jubilee (1966), and Ophelia in Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002). Reading of these mixed-race women in historical context illustrates the agency they claim by speaking and acting with deliberation and by using their lived experience, rewriting the history of the tragic mulatto. Citing Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), Barbara Johnson (The Postmodern in Feminism, 1992) recollects that “the association of deliberateness with human agency has a long (and very American) history. It is deliberateness that underlies that epic of separation and self-reliant autonomy.”3

Independent women in novels by E.D.E.N. Southworth, August Jane Evans, and Ellen Glasgow challenge the southern woman stereotypes to claim space for themselves. Additionally, Scarlet O’Hara in Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie (Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Alice Walker’s protagonists in Meridian (1976) and The Color Purple (1982), and others in historical fictions such as Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings (2014) about the Grimke sisters and Michele Moore’s The Cigar Factory (2016) about black and white Gullah-speaking women, act deliberately with determination to make their own decisions. For several such independent women, decades pass after publication of their stories before the reading public and the critics recognize that they have claimed the agency they desired.

Women in southern literature are also rebels, mothers, daughters, sisters, and young girls. In these categories, the characters are less likely to be stereotypical. They become instead individualized, rebelling against slavery, racism, patriarchal mores, and prescribed southernness. In family roles, southern female characters represent a range of experiences from the 19th to the 21st centuries, depending on race, economic class, and social expectations. Wai Chee Dimock explains that “the agency of gender is itself historical, because it is history . . . that produces the space between the ‘not’ and the ‘yet,’ within which gender can operate as a principle difference.”4 Many of the female characters and their authors became their own models rather than relying on others before them.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who had lived in the free state of Ohio across the river from Kentucky and whose empathy for the inhumanness and tragedies of slavery is said to have greatly increased when she lost her youngest child in a cholera epidemic, sold 300,000 copies in the United States and 1 million copies in Great Britain in the first year of publication. It was the bestselling novel of the 19th century. Aunt Chloe, housemaid and cook for the Shelbys’ Kentucky plantation, and Uncle Tom’s wife, might be the model for Mammy figures until Margaret Mitchell created Mammy in Gone with the Wind, the bestselling novel of the 20th century.5 Aunt Chloe is first met in her “own snug territories” cooking her “ole man’s supper.”

A round, black, shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have washed it over with white of eggs . . . [H]er whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched turban, bearing on it . . . a little of that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally held and acknowledged to be.6

When the slave Eliza, the plantation mistress’s maid, decides to escape with her infant son rather than being sold, Aunt Chloe is wholly sympathetic and encouraging. When Eliza has run, Aunt Chloe cooks as usual, pretending “as if she heard and saw nothing of the excitement around her.”7 Furthermore, she stoically bears the sale of her husband, “Uncle Tom.” She is thereafter absent from the novel until midway in the story when she is compared to another slave, Dinah, who “was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe,—cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius.”8 With her talents, Aunt Chloe hires out to a confectioner in Louisville to earn money to buy back Tom, but in this she is greatly disappointed. “[I]n a new calico dress, with clean, white apron, and high, well-starched turban, her black polished face glowing with satisfaction,” as she is told that Tom has died, she grabs up the money laid upon the table set for Tom’s homecoming and indicts her mistress—“don’t never want to see nor hear on‘t again. Jist as I knew’t would be,—sold, and murdered on dem ar’old plantations!’”9 Thus Aunt Chloe frames the narrative of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and presents the faithful, loyal (to mistress and husband), long-suffering Mammy.

Frances E. W. Harper, “one of the most prolific southern women writers of her time,”10 gives life to Aunt Chloe in a series of poems voicing the lives of black women.11 Frances Smith Foster says that these poems “not only form a history of Reconstruction but also serve as the bases for her novel, Iola Leroy . . . Aunt Chloe . . . is probably the first black female protagonist, outside the tragic mulatto tradition, to be presented as a model for life.”12 Harper also uses language to distinguish among characters, using an early African-American Vernacular English for the slaves’ speech. In Iola Leroy, Mam Liza controls her emotions and comforts Marie when her husband Eugene dies: “‘My pore baby,’ said Mam Liza, with broken sobs. ‘I’se drefful sorry. My heart’s most broke into two.’” At her northern school, Iola (unaware of her own black blood) defends slavery, arguing, “I love my mammy as much as I do my own mother, and I believe she loves us just as if we were her own children. When we are sick I am sure that she could not do anything more for us than she does.”13

Mammy in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is the stereotypical representation of the house slave deeply devoted to mothering white children. Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning Best-Supporting Actress performance in Victor Fleming’s 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind cemented the stereotype described in the novel. McDaniel aptly portrays Mammy’s physical characteristics and speech in the first chapters of the novel—a “huge old woman . . . shining black, pure African,” “broad black face, turbaned in snowy white” and “‘Young misses whut frowns an’ pushes out dey chins an’ says ‘Ah will’ an’ ‘Ah woan’ mos’ gener’ly doan ketch husbands.’”14 The adaptation omits the nuances of Mammy’s relationship to the O’Haras, stemming from the birth of Ellen Robillard O’Hara and that although she “was black[,] . . . her code of conduct and her sense of pride were as high or higher than those of her owners.”15 Mitchell’s character is precisely that described in 1918 in the Confederate Veteran as one “who held a position of trust and confidence in nearly every white family of importance in the South. Acting as nurse for the children of several generations, she was also their mentor, holding them to strict account of what was expected of them as being ‘to the manner born.’”16

Dilsey Gibson is a similarly devoted housemaid and cook for William Faulkner’s Compson family (set from around 1896 to 1928) in The Sound and the Fury. She tends patiently and quietly to the disintegrating household, maintaining decorum and offering care and love to thirty-three-year-old afflicted child Benjy and his loving sister Caddy, who is promiscuous while suffering the termagant mother Caroline Compson and the cruel brother Jason. To the family’s deaths, deceits, corruptions, and depravities, Dilsey responds, “All right . . . All right, here I is.”17 The year, however, is 1928, and Dilsey is not “Old Mammy.” She has a name, cares for both her children and grandchildren (also named with parallel roles in the novel), and is based on Faulkner’s prototype Caroline Barr (whom he called Mammy Callie). Dilsey does not fit the physical descriptions of the Old South’s or the Lost Cause’s mammy figures.

She wore a stiff black straw hat perched on her turban, and a maroon velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur above a dress of purple silk and she stood in the door for a while with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather . . . She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin.18

Dilsey has an independence and agency not seen in the earlier stereotypical mammies. Because Easter Sunday “dawned bleak and chill,” Dilsey changes clothes, and she is dressed “this time in a man’s felt hat and an army overcoat, beneath the frayed skirts of which her blue gingham dress fell in uneven balloonings”19 to go out into the rain to collect wood for the stove to prepare the family’s breakfast. After much delay, “Dilsey emerged, again in the maroon cape and the purple gown.”20 The first three sections of The Sound and the Fury are the interior monologues of the three Compson brothers. The fourth section, usually referred to as Dilsey’s section, is told from a third-person point of view, which liberates readers from the conflicted psyches of the brothers’ perspectives even as the narrator now controls Dilsey.

Belle and Lady

Kathryn Lee Seidel’s The Southern Belle in the American Novel (1985) defines and traces the southern belle from John Pendleton Kennedy’s Bel Tracy (Swallow Barn) to 1939. Seidel writes that the belle’s progress is “a perfect vehicle for representing the flowering of the Old South in antebellum times through the rape of the South during and after the Civil War and the decay of the South in the glare of modernism in the twentieth century.”21 The stereotype is attributed to the glorification of women, among other southern literary conventions, in Sir Walter Scott’s sentimental romances, the most popular novels in 19th-century America. Mark Twain, for example, wrote, “Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern characters, as it existed before the war, that he is in large measure responsible for the war.”22

Kennedy’s Bel Tracy, the first literary belle, is “headlong and thoughtless, with quick impulses, that give her the charm of agreeable expression, although her features are irregular, and would not stand a critical examination,” yet, she is a “woman of sense, and discriminates amongst men with remarkable acuteness.”23 She is “of lively imagination,” and a woman who “once [she] permits her fancy upon a lover, . . . is apt to settle the business for itself”; she chooses as her beau “an elegant, refined, sweet-spoken, grave, and dignified gentleman.”24

In Women of the South Distinguished in Literature (1860), Julia Dean Freeman gathered poems and prose by thirty women authors that illustrate the complex roles of women in life and in literature. Freeman provided biographical sketches that establish lineages, most often to the founders of the southern colonies of Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Those who moved away from the South or marry into the South are included. Four “Writers Not Yet Authors,” that is, writers who have not collected their works into a book, conclude the collection of more than 500 pages.25 Most of the authors published primarily poetry, sketches, and didactic and moralistic essays in circulars, magazines, and journals including Southern Literary Messenger, Southern Literary Gazette, Godey’s Lady’s Book; most were privileged “belles” with leisure time to write. The literary portrayals of women are largely imitative of the writers’ lives; orphaned early, the women characters practice Christian morality, recollect beloved landscapes of their youths, and seek love and security in the midst of illness and family deaths.

Octavia Walton Le Vert, whose grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and who was born in Georgia and grew up in Florida where her father was governor, was known as the “reigning belle,” but Freeman notes that this title, “which, worn as it so often is by the weak and frivolous, or the vain and heartless, has ever done injustice to the high-toned and comprehensive character of our author.” When Octavia married Henry Le Vert of Alabama, she became the “Belle of the Union.” Freeman quotes a sketch of Octavia that says, “if you would see the ideal of the relationship between a lady and her female slave, you should see Octavia Le Vert and her clever, handsome, mulatto attendant, Betsey. Betsey seems really not to live for anything else than for her mistress, Octavia.”26

A few of Freeman’s authors wrote to support themselves, their children, and, in some cases, invalid husbands. Northerner Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps wrote instruction manuals for her students from both sections of the country at the Patapsco Female Institute in Maryland, a boarding school that she managed from 1841 to 1855. In “Southern Housekeepers,” Phelps wrote, “It would be a mistaken kindness in you to do the labor, and let the menials live in idleness. But it is well for you to know what labor is, that you can feel sympathy for them,” yet in “Belles,” Phelps succinctly outlines the folly of trying to be a belle, that even with the necessity of becoming “happy and fashionable and accepted . . . one must remain sensible and sincere” and avoid hurting others’ feelings. Phelps concludes that the successful female will marry and become a mother, for much “commiserated are those who are dependent for happiness or virtue on her faithfulness and conscientiousness.”27

The plantation novel belle of Gone with the Wind is duly described in Mitchell’s opening sentences: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father.” Her “magnolia-white skin” is “prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mitten against the hot Georgia suns.”28 Although Scarlett becomes a forerunner of the modern working woman, the novel concludes with the open ending, with Rhett not giving a damn and Scarlett remembering Tara and even more so, Mammy. “Suddenly, she wanted Mammy desperately, as she had wanted her when she was a little girl, wanted the broad bosom on which to lay her head, the gnarled black hand on her hair. Mammy the last link with the old days,” days when she was a young belle and not a matron. According to biographer Darden Asbury Pyron, Mitchell said that she wrote the last chapter first and the first chapter last and wanted the ending to be ambiguous, although other biographers and scholars disagree about whether the manuscript ended with Rhett’s final line, “My dear, I don’t give a damn,” or with Scarlett’s “Tomorrow is another day,” one of Mitchell’s proposed titles.29

Barbara Bennett cites “Ellen Glasgow, Frances Newman, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and William Faulkner” as “using the belle in their literature to represent the darker side of the South, symbolizing traditions of the Old South crumbling in the face of modern life.”30 Tennessee Williams also offers representations of fallen southern belles in Amanda Wingfield (The Glass Menagerie, 1944) and Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947). Both women are nostalgic for the sentimental days of yore, Amanda for her many beaux and Blanche for the family home, Belle Reve, in the Mississippi Delta. The failure of the myth of the plantation belle for both women is emphasized by the social and geographic contrasts in Williams’s plays. In the 1930s, living in a St. Louis, Missouri, tenement, Amanda burdens her children with reminiscences of her gentlemen callers, dresses inappropriately, and forces her son to bring home such a gentleman for Laura in order to stave off “what becomes of unmarried women . . . such pitiful cases in the South—barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife—stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room—encouraged by one in-law to visit another—little birdlike women without any nest—eating the crust of humility all their life!”31 Amanda’s description anticipates Blanche’s situation when she moves in with her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley in Bohemian New Orleans. Blanche begins coyly in sweet murmurs affecting the southern belle: “You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer you left Belle Reve.”32 When Stanley demands to learn the value of the family estate, Blanche’s façade cracks, and she loses her charm and feminine wiles as she crudely explains, “piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly! The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation.”33

By mid-20th century, the “belles” became “ladies” as part of the Lost Cause’s reconstruction of the South. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985) a memoir by acerbic southern journalist Florence King, begins, “There are ladies everywhere, but they enjoy generic recognition only in the South. There is a New England old maid but not a New England lady. There is a Midwestern farm wife, but not a Midwestern lady.”34 In a heated discussion, Granny, who with her black house cleaner Jensy Custis, tried to school King, demands, “Then what is a Southern Bell?” to which King’s British father answers, “A state of mind . . . The belle is a product of the Deep South, which is a product of the nineteenth century and the Age of Romanticism. Virginia is a product of the eighteenth century. It’s impossible to extract a belle from the Age of Reason.”35 Granny had tried to teach King that ladies do not “cuss like a trooper,” “do not smoke on the street,” and are “not bookish,” but her efforts to raise King as either a belle or a lady failed.36


“The Tragic Mulatto,” the representation of mixed-race or biracial women, is one of seven stereotypes examined in Sterling Brown’s “Negro Character as Seen by White Authors” (1933). Brown’s examples attest to the “patent absurdity” and “generalizing of the wildest sort” regarding writing of the “tragic mulatto,” and “that white blood means asceticism and Negro blood means unbridled lust.”37 Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is aided in her escape by being “so white as to not be known as of colored lineage, without a critical survey, and her child was white also.”38 Stowe merely states Eliza’s appearance and gives no attention to the potential consequences of her parents’ miscegenation, of mixed blood.

Christopher Mulvey argues that the success of Stowe’s novel is due in part to it falling “ambiguously . . . between the anti-slavery novel and the plantation novel” and that Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave impetus for William Wells Brown to write Clotel; or the President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, the first novel written by an African American.39 Currer, a “bright mulatto,” bears two daughters to President Thomas Jefferson, and at his death, Currer and their daughters Clotel and Althesa are sold.40 Clotel, sixteen, has “a complexion as white as most of those who were waiting with a wish to become her purchasers; her features as finely defined as any of her sex of pure Anglo Saxon.”41 To Horatio Green, who purchases Clotel for $1,500 and keeps her secluded as his common-law wife, Clotel bears a daughter, Mary. Clotel is later sold and Mary is enslaved to serve Green’s legal wife. Currer and Althesa (who passes as white and marries illegally) die of yellow fever, Althesa’s two daughters tragically die enslaved, and Clotel escapes multiple times and pursues freeing her daughter. “The “white-skinned heroines” of Clotel define the stereotype that “came to be called ‘the Tragic Mulatto,’” although Brown “took his model from Lydia Maria Child’s story, ‘The Quadroons’” (1847).42

At the beginning of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs relates, “in complexion my parents were a light shade of brownish yellow, and were termed mulattoes.”43 Harriet’s light skin was a curse, making her more attractive to her master and more recognizable after her escape (“$300 REWARD! Ran away from the subscriber, an intelligent, bright, mulatto girl, named Linda, 21 years age”44) even while aiding her in that escape, even as it made employment in New York and Boston more possible. Sterling Brown’s 1933 assertion that the “mathematical computation of the amount of white blood in a mulatto’s veins will explain his character”45 proves true when Harriet is in the North. While the children’s nurses “of a great variety of nations” are accepted, Harriet is refused a seat and remarks, “I was the only nurse tinged with the blood of Africa.”46 She explains to herself the disappointment of her children’s white father’s failure to follow through with his promise of freeing them from slavery: “At the south, a gentleman may have a shoal of colored children without any disgrace; but if he is known to purchase them, with the view of setting them free, the example is thought to be dangerous to their ‘peculiar institution,’ and he becomes unpopular.”47

Iola Leroy, in Frances E. W. Harper’s eponymous novel, is raised by her white planter father and her mulatto mother and educated in the North without knowledge of her blackness. While other blacks fighting for the Union army know her heritage, Dr. Gresham, who falls in love with Iola as she nurses the wounded, notes confusion about Iola’s character. He muses,

She is one of the most refined and lady-like women I ever saw. I hear she is a refugee, but she does not look like the other refugees who have come to our camp. Her accent is slightly Southern; but her manner is Northern. She is self-respecting without being supercilious; quiet, without being dull. Her voice is low and sweet, yet at times there are tones of such passionate tenderness in it that you would think some great sorrow has darkened and overshadowed her life. Without being the least gloomy, her face at times is pervaded by an air of inexpressible sadness. . . . I cannot understand how a Southern lady, whose education and manners stamp her as a woman of fine culture and good breeding, could consent to occupy the position she so faithfully holds. It is a mystery I cannot solve.48

Iola refuses to marry Dr. Gresham, first saying that she must return south to find her family; her mother love and mother yearning and a promise made to her dying sister Gracie are stronger than what she perceives to be her selfish desires. Later she argues that she is “not willing to live under a shadow of concealment which I thoroughly hate as if the blood in my veins were an undetected crime of my soul.”49

Iola’s white father, Eugene Leroy, is a conflicted man, wanting to have the riches of the plantation made profitable by slave labor and to have his wife and children free while admitting that they have black blood. He is an idealist without recognizing the realities of the system and accepting as free human beings only the individuals he admires. He, like Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind, never addresses the realities of the slave economy. Iola inherits her mother’s sense of reality and justice. She had explained to her husband,

I do not think that some of you planters understand your own slaves. Lying is said to be the vice of slaves. The more intelligent of them have so learned to veil their feelings that you do not see the undercurrent of discontent beneath their apparent good humor and jollity. The more discontented they are, the more I respect them. To me a contented slave is an abject creature.50

In Iola Leroy, Harper writes more than a sentimental, religious, or historical novel; she addresses slavery, racism, colorism, alcoholism, and the importance of education and work for women. Education, for Harper and Jacobs, is a means for self-sufficiency that diminishes the burden of being a mulatto, that may help to reject or at least rethink the “tragedy” of being biracial.

Vyry Ware, child of her master and his slave mistress, “the moral center” of Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, is what Walker called “the embodiment” of “Humanistic Tradition of Afro-American literature.”51 Walker wrote the novel over a period of thirty years from the stories of her great-grandmother passed through three generations. With Vyry, Walker “attends to the idea of what the black and commodified body of the slave meant to American culture,” musing “on the ironies of a slave’s being ‘linked by blood’ to a master class but ‘tied to slavery by a black mother.’”52 Jubilee, the first neo-slave narrative, begins in the antebellum period when Vyry is a toddler and concludes as the Ku Klux Klan ravages the South, all the history in between falls in full force upon Vyry and her family. In the middle of the novel, when the report of Emancipation is read to plantation mistress, Miss Lillian, and the remaining slaves, Vyry chooses to stay on the plantation although she knows she is free to follow the raping and pillaging Union soldiers. She contemplates that her children might now “learn to read and write, . . . and cipher,” a longing she mentions frequently.53 Her fortitude and determination signal that Vyry is a woman with agency. Michelle Cliff in “The Black Woman as Mulatto: A Personal Response to the Character of Vyry” notes, “One of the reasons Jubilee has such a historical and political acuteness is because of Walker’s ability to show that Vyry, or another light-skinned mulatto, born into slavery, could only be a black woman.”54 Cliff’s comment echoes Walker’s 1980 essay, “On Being Female, Black, and Free,” in which Walker celebrates her gender, race, and liberty, concluding, “I must believe there is more wisdom in a righteous path that leads to death than an ignominious path of living shame; that the writer is still in the avant-garde for truth and justice, for freedom, peace and human dignity. I must believe that women are still in that humanistic tradition, and I must cast my lot with them.”55

Poet Natasha Trethewey opens Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems (2002) with an epigraph from Toni Morrison’s essay, “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib” (1971): “and she had nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of the profound desolation of her reality she may well have invented herself.”56 The epigraph describes the octoroon Ophelia. Coming from Mississippi, and having an absent white father, not finding work in New Orleans, despite her light skin, her hands gloved and her face shaded by a hat brim, Ophelia takes work in Countess P—’s brothel in Storyville, the legalized prostitution district. “Countess P—’s Advice to the New Girls” is to “think of yourself as molten glass—/expand and quiver beneath the weight of his breath//. . . Become what you must. Let him see whatever/he needs. Train yourself not to look back.”57 Ophelia, in her memory and in the rooms at Countess P—’s searches for her father; she is described in the Blue Book as “‘Violet,’ a fair-skinned beauty, recites/poetry and soliloquies; nightly/she performs her tableau vivant, becomes/a living statue, an object of art—”; she “fade[s] into someone” she is “not.”58 Throughout this collection, voiced by Ophelia in letters home to her teacher and in her diary, the beautiful octoroon tells of her situation. In time, she finds agency by moving away from Bellocq’s camera’s eye, to stand behind the camera, focusing its aperture on other subjects.

In “Miscegenation” (Native Guard: Poems, 2006), Trethewey announces, “In 1965 my parents broke two laws in Mississippi;/they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.”59 In “My Mother Dreams Another Country,” Trethewey writes, “Already the words are changing. She is changing/from colored to negro, black still years ahead./This is 1966—she is married to a white man—/and there are more names for what grows inside her./It is enough to worry about words like mongrel/and the infertility of mules and mulattoes/while flipping through a book of baby names.”60 The facts of Trethewey’s mixed blood are ever present in her persona poems in Domestic Work: Poems (2000), Native Guard: Poems (2012), and Thrall: Poems. Trethewey, whose father is a white Canadian and mother a black Mississippian, identifies as black while she celebrates her achievements as a southern biracial female poet.

Independent Woman

Two of the women in Julia Freeman’s 1860 anthology remain significant in 19th-century literature: the enormously popular and prolific E.D.E.N. Southworth and Augusta Jane Evans. Southworth wrote to support herself and her children, writing seriously five days a week, completing sixty domestic novels that were first published serially in The National Era, the New York Ledger, and other journals. First serialized in 1859 (and again in 1868/9 and 1883, and published as a book in 1888), The Hidden Hand relates the adventures of Virginian Capitola Black, who, having grown up in the rough streets and alleys of New York City where she had been taken as a baby, breaks out of the social and religious confines of rural Virginia into a melee of great daring adventures.

In The Hidden Hand, Southworth “is at her satiric best: a brilliantly comedic popular analyst of cultural stereotypes and expectations,” writes Joanne Dobson, who introduces a contemporary reprint of the novel and argues that Southworth’s women characters are “for the most part strong, or able to learn strength” and that

[a]lthough Southworth’s advocacy for women certainly has feminist implications for modern readers, her books do not campaign for the rights of women in the openly and publicly political manner we usually define as feminist. Rather she felt and recorded a deep and personal sense of outrage at the oppressions and deprivations of her own life and the lives of the women she saw around her.61

Dobson asserts that “Cap took up her sword and attacked that great humbug that limited their lives—the cultural ethos of feminine ‘obedience’ and ‘subordination.’”62

Evans authored Beulah (1859) and a pro-Confederacy novel Marcaria (1864), which was sufficiently successful to enable Evans to quit her teaching job to write full time. Evans is best known for her 1866 romance St. Elmo and its famous protagonist Edna Earl. In its day, St. Elmo was nearly as popular as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Janet Gabler-Hover comments that “Recent critics have read past the marriage themes in Evans’s novels to show how her women characters are as intellectually capable as men and how they gain personal and public power in their world.”63

In Barren Ground (1925), Ellen Glasgow’s Dorinda demonstrates that happiness and love, when displaced by fortitude and perseverance, can create a satisfactory, if unconventional, life. Dorinda begins with a typical romantic ardor of a love and marriage that she hopes will rescue her from the circumscribed conditions of life; when she is first seen, “her attitude, in its stillness, gave an impression of arrested flight, as if she were running toward life.”64 Yet Dorinda is soon “caught like a mouse in the trap of life. No matter how desperately she struggled, she could never escape; she could never be free. She was held fast by circumstances as by invisible wires of steel.”65 She sees her mother working herself to death and asks, “‘Is there ever any reason why people marry?’”66 and as neither love, nor religion, nor the city have anything to offer Dorinda, what remains steady is work, working the farm, the barren ground. She steels herself against any emotion: “‘There must be something in life besides love.’”67 “‘I’ve got to go straight ahead, no matter how I feel’”; “‘I’m in it now, and I must see it through,’ . . . ‘I’ll not give up as long as there is breath left in my body.’”68

Glasgow said that from the first she “had resolved” to “write of the South not sentimentally, as a conquered province, but dispassionately, as a part of the larger world”; she “would write not of Southern characteristics, but of human nature.”69 “For me,” she wrote, “the novel is experience illumined by imagination, and the word ‘experience’ conveys something more than an attitude or a gesture. In Barren Ground, as in The Sheltered Life [1932], I felt that the scene, apart from the human figures, possessed an added dimension, a universal rhythm deeper and more fluid than any material texture.”70 Carolyn Perry summarizes that Glasgow “emphasized that ‘official’ history does not tell the whole story”; thus, Glasgow “began the process of dismantling the power male writers, critics, and historians held.”71 When Dorinda is forced to make a good life regardless of what she might have dreamed, and says to herself, “You can get use to anything if you have to,” she anticipates the dynamism and determination of Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara.72

In In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Alice Walker articulates her manifesto, “womanist,” in dictionary-entry form, revising patriarchal language for black women. Her third definition of womanist might be written for Zora Neale Hurston and her character Janie, protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God—“3. Loves music, Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”73 When the novel opens, the men on the porch define Janie according to her sexuality and physical appearance, but as she begins to tell her own story to her woman friend Pheoby, reconstructing it through memories, what Toni Morrison calls “willed creations,”74 Janie gains control of her body and her life. Young, romantic, idealistic, naïve, Janie is searching, but for what? Like Glasgow’s Dorinda, she asks, “Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?”75 In each of her marriages, Janie becomes more confident, learning to trust her own thinking and desires, but also like Dorinda, she is most content when she is without a man. Joe (Jody) Starks plays the dozens with the men at the store and brags, “‘Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chicken and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves. . . They just think they’s thinkin’. When Ah see one thing Ah understand ten. You [Janie] see ten things and don’t understand one.’” Hurston writes, “Times and scenes like that put Janie to thinking about the inside state of her marriage. Time came when she fought back with her tongue as best she could, but it didn’t do her any good . . . He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it.”76

But Janie does think, and in their seventh year of marriage, after Joe slaps her when dinner is ruined, she remarks that “something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over.”77 Joe’s death leaves Janie free and relatively content without a husband. By the conclusion of Janie’s journey, she has become self-sufficient such that at her trial for the murder of Teacake, her third husband, “she didn’t plead with anybody. She just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed. She had been through for some time before the judge and the lawyer and the rest seemed to know it.”78 Her presence itself that begat so much gossip at the beginning of the novel signifies her powerful independence at its end.

Janie’s and Zora Neale Hurston’s indomitable spirits and their womanism are evident in Meridian, Walker’s protagonist in her novel Meridian. Walker asks how much is too much for one person to do. Meridian sacrifices much for an education, for friendship, for love, and for equal rights; she wears herself out, but she does not give up. Meridian, writes Lovalerie King, “epitomizes the courageous willful behavior of the womanist subject, though critics disagree as to whether she becomes a fully realized character.”79 It is Meridian, however, who walks away alone, leaving Truman Held, the man who thought he was essential, waiting for tomorrow.

While The Color Purple by Walker is Celie’s tale, it is Shug, jazz and blues singer, free thinker, Celie’s husband’s mistress, and Celie’s lover, who is most memorable. Shug does and says what she pleases, working the system to her own satisfaction. Shug “expresses a free, open, fluid sexuality that is not bound by prefixes, which serves as further evidence of the willful, audacious, and even courageous approach to life,” fully embodying womanism according to King’s paraphrase of Walker’s first and second definitions of it.80 Celie confides to her sister that she no longer writes to God, and then she reports Shug’s philosophy:

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for . . . God ain’t a he or a she, but a It. . . . It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug . . . And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it.81

With Shug’s explanation of believing in one’s self, Celie begins to face her problems and becomes independent, a stance offered at the conclusion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) by Paul D: “You your best thing, Sethe. You are.”82

History told in narrative, imaginative form gives access to the emotions, ambiguities, and peripheral or marginalized action, the aspects of history that are not typically available in the discourses of essays and historical documentation. History confirms key events and grounds the specific people, legislation, and occurrences out of which imagined narrative responses arise. Literature, when it is recognized as emanating from historical realities, is especially authenticated and gives emotive issues a legitimacy, diminishing a charge of sentimentality. Thus, readers approach fiction that re-presents history from an intimate, ordinary person’s point of view with a seriousness not as readily granted to less historically based texts. These are considerations for reading the representations of Sarah and Angelina Grimke and others in Sue Monk Kidd’s historical novel The Invention of Wings. The Grimke sisters and Angelina’s husband Thomas Weld put together American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839) that is known to have influenced Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After Stowe’s novel, American Slavery As It Is is the second most significant abolitionist document. Although the sisters’ testimonies are but two among many, and the American Anti-Slavery Society is named as author on the book itself, the Grimke sisters’ lives are little known.

The Invention of Wings is, therefore, a welcome telling of the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke of Charleston, South Carolina, and the struggles, confrontations, and eventual successes that the sisters in particular had in fighting the dual oppressions of slaves and women. In life, Sarah rejected slavery early, fought against her family, was denied educational and professional opportunities because she was a woman. In the novel, Kidd shows that when Sarah and Angelina (Nina) work together, their voices are naturally stronger. They find they must work with the men who argue that one must fight first for the end of slavery and attend later to women’s rights. Nina rebukes the men: “Hoping to convince us to behave like good lapdogs and wait content beneath the table for whatever crumbs you toss to us?” she asks. “Sarah and I haven’t ceased to work for abolition. We’re speaking for slaves and women both . . . The time to assert one’s right is when it’s denied.” The sisters do not give up. Sarah demands,

How can you ask us to go back to our parlors? . . . To turn our backs on ourselves and on our own sex? We don’t wish the movement to split, of course we don’t —it saddens me to think of it—but we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men. Do what you have to do, censure us, withdraw your support, we’ll press on anyway. Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.83

In her “Afterword,” Kidd provides a full and satisfactory accounting of the documented and imagined details used in the novel.

Another historical novel of strong, independent women who prevail against misogyny, racism, segregation, and abuses of capitalism is The Cigar Factory: A Novel of Charleston in which author Michele Moore narrates the parallel lives of two matriarchs, the white Cassie McGonegal and the black Meliah Amey Ravenel. They work on segregated floors of the Charleston Cigar Factory, although Charleston neighborhoods, in which the European immigrants learned Gullah language from the African majority, were not divided into black and white. Cassie and Meliah Amey would be equally impoverished except that the white women work upstairs rolling the cigars for a few more cents than can be earned by the black women working in the airless, alternately freezing cold or stifling hot basement, sorting and stemming the tobacco leaves sprayed with ammonia-laden pesticides. Both Cassie and Meliah Amey work themselves weak providing food and education, holding the same dreams for their families with an equally powerful will to survive. Although both are sexually harassed and threatened with losing their jobs, they work as they can with the system, strengthened by their Catholic faith.

Beginning in 1917 and continuing to shortly after the end of World War II, The Cigar Factory comes to a climax when Cassie and Meliah Amey unite to participate in the successful 1945–1946 tobacco workers’ strike and confront the management.

Cassie studied the paper. One column listed the union’s demands and beside all of them was the word NO. No to the sixty-five-cent minimum hourly wage. No to the company paying fifty-percent of a family’s medical insurance. No to the seniority system for wages and promotions. The only one with a question mark was the demand to end discrimination against Negro workers.

Meliah Amey, finally addressed properly as Mrs. Ravenel, states, “For years, the foreman pays the girls for lots of reasons that don’t have nothing to do with how much tobacco they stem, or how many cigars her team makes. Everybody knows what goes in another’s pay envelope. When it’s not fair, people get mad.” Cassie, Miss McGonegal, agrees:

We need a pay system in writing. . . . lots of us women never been married an we ain eligible for the old-age pension from the state. Out there on the line with the colored, I hear that lots of them ain eligible for the old-age pension or the minimum wage on account of y’all calling them in the basement same as a field hand on a farm, and that ain right. . . We not going back to work till you put in that there contract that the men that work here—I don’t care if they on the line or in the manager’s office—the men can’t put they hands on a woman or make advances that way, and he can’t set foot in the ladies’ room.

Meliah Amey adds, “We wanna wear the same uniforms as white or no uniforms at all. . . . We want to use the cafeteria, and the stairwells, and doors, same as the white girls.”

The factory manager interrupts, “My God—You two don’t understand what you’re talking about. Tell me, what is it you really want from us?”

“‘To be paid fair and treated decent,’ said the two women at the same time.”84 Meliah Amey and Cassie become stronger, independent, and self-fulfilled when they work together. Their stories, absent from the historical records for the most part, are realized in the historical novel.


Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind) readily admits to not being educated in books, politics, and history, but she is well tooled in understanding necessities. Even as she harbors the unhealthy and romanticized longing for Ashley Wilkes and refuses to befriend Ashley’s wife Melanie, Scarlett labors, invents, schemes, and rebels against all social, religious, and even political decorum, first to survive the confinement of widowhood, then the ravages of Tara during the Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction-era taxes. Perhaps she recalls her father’s declaration, “Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”85

Without her mother, Ellen, as a paragon of manners and spiritual strength, Scarlett regresses to her old selfish self while she progresses in confidence and skills stereotypically found in men. She refuses to mother her children by her loveless marriages to Charles Hamilton and Frank Kennedy; she offers to prostitute herself to the racketeer Rhett for $300 for taxes; she spurns everyone’s disbelief and disdain that she would manage the mill, buy and sell lumber; she compromises Ashley and Melanie’s marriage. When Scarlett believes that she is acting individually, of her own accord, for her own exigencies, she has no moral qualms. When a woman rebels for a cause—abolition or women’s rights, for example—she is applauded and aided. When she acts alone, even for survival, she suffers public scorn or censure. Mitchell’s novel is far more nuanced than is Fleming’s film in developing Scarlett’s conscience and actions, in showing the choices that Scarlett makes, in creating a believable, assertive survivor.

Edna Pontellier (The Awakening, 1899) is a rebel of a different sort. Kate Chopin narrates four choices for Edna. The first is to regress to her past, the binaries of exuberant romanticism and strict Protestantism. Second is her current situation as Léonce Pontellier’s wife, as a possession that must not be sunburned or even tired during the summer on Grand Isle with her newfound freedoms of swimming and easy commerce with Robert Lebrun just beginning to awaken Edna to the conditions of marriage. Back in the city, in the fall, Léonce complains, “Her whole attitude—toward me and everybody and everything—has changed.”86 Third is to be a mother-woman as modeled by Adèle Ratignolle, but while Edna occasionally enjoys a friendship with Adèle and her family, she also finds Adèle’s life stifling, leaving no space for her own energies or expression. Fourth is the life of an artist, an aesthetic life of unbridled emotions and self-expression as Edna feels and experiences under the tutelage of Mademoiselle Reisz.

Once Edna has begun to loosen the bonds, she allows her own self to emerge: sleeping on the porch, swimming to exhaustion (with the exhilaration of accomplishment), leaving church to nap away from home, gambling, letting herself be courted and seduced, refusing calling hours and visits, walking alone in the city, feeling passion for the first time, indulging in painting, moving into the Pigeon House, a “room of her own.”87 Edna vows, “I’m going to pull myself together,” sounding as if she might capitulate to belong in the world she sees, but she later “resolve[s] never again to belong to another than herself.”88 Dr. Mandelet understands Edna’s awakening, but Léonce Pontellier, Robert LeBrun, Adèle Ratignolle, and Mademoiselle Reisz do not. Edna rebels by refusing the options she has explored and swims out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The rebel in Ellen Douglas’s postmodern novel Can’t Quit You, Baby (1988) is Tweet, the black cook who works for a white employer, Cornelia. When Cornelia turns down her hearing aid, Tweet uses such opportune times to tell her life stories as the two women sit at right angles to one another at Cornelia’s kitchen table. “Most girl-children need to be afraid—afraid of white men, white women, white kids . . . afraid of brothers, uncles, daddies, mama’s boyfriends, mamas even.”89 “The bad luck started when my daddy came back,” Tweet says, challenging Cornelia’s perfect fairy-tale world.90 Tweet rebels against her father when he tries to steal her inheritance from her grandfather, even burning Tweet and her grandfather out of their home. She rebels against her cheating husband. Against Cornelia’s complacency, Tweet acts out by telling true stories of how she has stood up for herself, claiming agency. As a white author, Douglas questions herself within the novel, confronting the reader with the difficulty of making the choices necessary to truthfully narrate the black experience.

Two late 20th-century writers who capture young, powerful, and memorable rebels are Ellen Gilchrist and Josephine Humphreys. In Rhoda: A Life in Stories (1995), Gilchrist gathered some twenty tales of her protagonist Rhoda Manning that had appeared in In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), Victory over Japan (1984), and Net of Jewels (1994). Gilchrist introduces the collection stating, “There are no shadows in Rhoda. Rhoda is passion, energy, light. . . . If she loses a pearl ring, it’s proof there is no God. If it’s necessary to drop an atomic bomb to save western civilization, she’s ready.”91 Rhoda is fearless as illustrated, beginning with the first story, “Revenge,” in which she challenges male expectations of what girls can do during “the summer of the broad jump.”92 Josephine Humphreys creates equally memorable rebels: Alice Reese in Dreams of Sleep (1984), Lucille Odum in Rich in Love (1987), and Rhoda Strong in Nowhere Else on Earth (2001). At her kitchen sink, Alice watches her girls playing in the driveway: “She doesn’t see other women much, especially since her husband took up with one. . . . The mystery is what will happen next.”93

Of all southern rebels, Florence King is the self-declared queen. Her memoirs and essays spare no one’s feelings, least of all her grandmother’s, whose rituals of southern ladylikeness dominated Florence’s life, making her an especially apt rebel. Whatever King’s grandmother recommended, King did the opposite or pled ignorance. “‘Get your nose out of that book,’ Granny cried. . . . ‘I’ve told you and told you that a lady is accomplished but never bookish.’ ‘Be that as it may,’” replied King.94


The absence of their own mothers and fear of being separated from their children are the dual hauntings of slave women narrated in numerous novels, but none is so artfully and emotionally drawn as Sethe of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Having sent her three children on before her, her husband having disappeared, Sethe, like others in reality and in fiction, escapes alone, filled with anxiety to get to her youngest with her mother’s milk. Sethe births her fourth child, Denver, en route. As a mother, Sethe is motivated by her children’s safety, and this includes keeping them from slavery’s deadening traumas. Sethe’s mother love, written about extensively in Morrison scholarship, results in freeing her baby from enslavement by killing her and then starving herself and Denver both literally and figuratively when the baby returns as Beloved and claims her mother for herself alone. Mother love is a theme explored in other Morrison novels across time including Jazz (1992), A Mercy (2008), and Home (2012).95 Morrison’s parents and grandparents were from Alabama and Georgia, and while Morrison grew up in Ohio, freeing her from the potential constraints of regionalism, her characters are imbued with the South’s history.

Lamb in His Bosom (1933) by Caroline Miller is a Pulitzer Prize novel set in 19th-century south Georgia, in which Cean Smith “belonged” to herself for only a brief moment after her youthful marriage. Cean wisely acknowledges that “A woman has to be stronger than a man.”96 She has two baby girls in quick succession, neither an easy birth, and she feels

sad when she remembered that the first child had its mother to itself hardly any time at all before its sister scrouged itself into their mother’s heart, and the older one had to grow on off by itself and get out of the way . . . Even her mother’s milk had been taken out of that first child’s mouth, because the jealous presence of the second child was poison.97

And then for two years Cean bears no children. She

knew that hit were a sin fer a woman to crave to be free and easy and unencumbered in this here life. She had sinned in wanting to frolic and joke and find delight in this world. . . [She] never did tell [Lonzo, her husband] that during those two past years she had planned and managed to have no children for him. That he would never have forgiven her, and well she knew it.98

This comes back to haunt Cean when after these two years of “finding delight in herself” and then six more children, her twin sons are born dead and she blames herself. “Weren’t hit exactly two years that Cean had made out, between Kissie and Cal, to have no more children?”99 Miller’s understandings of the joy and the terrible wretched physical pain and mental anguish that come with bearing and raising children are fully realistic, as her character Cean shows. The novel is an education for men and a comfort of understanding for women. Miller’s novel explores the physical weakness from having children in quick succession, the loss of blood and iron, the pain of mastitis, the incapacitation of postpartum depression.

Grandmother, mother, and daughter characters in William Faulkner’ novels—Caroline Compson and Caddy in The Sound and the Fury, Dewey Dell and Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying (1930), Lena Grove in Light in August (1932)—and in Flannery O’Connor’s stories—“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1953), “Good Country People” (1955), “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “Revelation” (both 1965), for example—are fraught with self-concern. They generally lack empathy. Addie thinks,

I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time And when I would have to look at them day after day, each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead.100

While not all are as severe as Addie, Faulkner’s and O’Connor’s mother characters are typically unlikeable and unloving, although the young women without models for birthing or nurturing their children such as Caddy, Dewey Dell, and Lena draw sympathy from readers.

Daughter and Sister

William Faulkner’s young mother characters are often daughters without sisters, are pregnant without husbands and, therefore, without second families or mothers-in-law who might be supportive. Caroline Compson bans her daughter Caddy from her home and forbids her name to be spoken; Caddy’s brother Jason lies and steals the money Caddy contributes to her daughter’s livelihood. Sarah and Angelina Grimke make a difference once they unite to empower their abolitionist and women’s rights positions, especially in confronting their mother and siblings. In Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell uses Scarlett’s sisters Suellen and Carreen as foils to Scarlett’s manipulative actions for survival and selfishness. Celie and Nettie, sisters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, find a safe place for both confession and solace in their intimate and private relationship.

Silver Sparrow (2011) by Tayari Jones and Almost Sisters (2017) by Joshilyn Jackson both narrate the complexities of race for several pairs of sisters. In Silver Sparrow, Dana Yarbora and Chaurisse Witherspoon are friends in 1980s Atlanta, but only Dana knows that they are sisters and that their father James Witherspoon is a bigamist. Dana, who narrates the first half of the novel before Chaurisse takes up the telling, states (for the reader), “With wives it only matters who gets there first. With daughters the situation is a bit more complicated.”101 Almost Sisters has multiple “sisters”: protagonist Leia Brick Briggs (who is white) is writing a prequel to her graphic novel about “almost sisters” Violence and Violet; Leia and her sister-in-law Rachel have a similar “almost” friendship; and Leia’s grandmother Birchie, white, and her best friend Wattie, black, are keeping a secret about their mutual (and dead) father. At the most profound level, all these sisters help Leia to understand the two souths. She thinks, “The South was like that optical-illusion drawing of the duck that is at the same time a rabbit. . . . the Souths were like that drawing. Both existed themselves, but they were so merged that I could shift from one and find myself inside the other without moving.”102

In Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding (1946), a plantation novel set in 1923, Dabney Fairchild, sixteen, the second oldest sister, marries the overseer Troy Flavin from northeast Mississippi at the end of their two-week engagement, mid-cotton harvest. Shelley, the older sister, a reader, diarist, sensitive, and serious, will be compensated for having no prospects and not being the first to marry with a trip to Europe with her Aunt Tempe. A third sister, nine-year-old India, is matched with two nine-year-old cousins: Maureen, whose Fairchild father is dead and whose mother is wild, and Laura McRaven from Jackson, who has come to the Delta for the wedding, although, because her Fairchild mother is dead, Laura cannot be in the wedding. The young cousins add humor and offer inquisitiveness and either insider or outsider perspectives, especially on the contrasting bride and oldest sister. Whereas Shelley may be thought of as a New Woman (she is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned), she is still a southerner caught in the belle stereotypes. It is Dabney who is in control of her future. She wants her father to refute her willfulness; she flaunts her fiancé’s working-class status while she spends the night at the Delta dances with Dickie Boy Featherspoon; she carelessly breaks the china nightlight, a family heirloom. Dabney manipulates her family so that she can stay in the Delta, live in the grandest, heretofore abandoned, family home, and control the cotton plantation as well as her husband. Dabney’s flexibility in creating her future is best understood in the circle of her sisters and cousins and what is expected of and for them.

Girl Child

Welty confessed that she used her child-character Laura McRaven to focalize Delta Wedding so that if she made mistakes about the region (because she had never lived there), it would be due to her character. One explanation for the rich representations of girls in southern literature is that many of children in southern fiction are highly autobiographical, the authors looking back and creating from memory. Mick Kelly in Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), one such character, is awakened to an aesthetic other-world as she hears a symphony broadcast on the radio through an open window. “[T]here was not enough of her to listen. . . She could not remember any of the symphony, not even the last few notes. . . Now that it was over there was only her heart like a rabbit and this terrible hurt.”103 (In her youth, McCullers trained to be a concert pianist.) Despite Mick’s dreams and efforts, she does not break out of her social or economic class. McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding also focuses on life understood through the psyche of a young girl, Frankie Addams.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee is told by Scout Finch who is nearly nine years old. From the first, the reader is given to understand that memory is ambiguous. Scout, trying to fix events in time, recalls her brother Jem saying, “it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley,” a reclusive adult, “come out.”104 Scout gives the family history, the “shame” of being “Southerners” without a respectable lineage, that she has no memory of her mother who died when she was two, that their father Atticus treated them with “curious detachment,” while their housekeeper Calpurnia, who had a hand “as wide as a bed slat and twice as hard,” “rarely commented on the ways of white people.”105 Scout’s perspective, fresh, without the stereotypes and prejudices of the segregated adults, gives readers the possibilities that anything can happen.

Ellen Foster (1987) by Kaye Gibbons, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) by Dorothy Allison, and Salvage the Bones (2011) by Jesmyn Ward are all narrated by young female protagonists (Ellen, Bone, and Esch, respectively). Autobiographies including Killers of the Dream (1949) by Lillian Smith and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999) by Janisse Ray also use the child’s point of view, restricted, naïve, and reliable. From the telescoped lens focused on the world as seen in the moment rather than laden with preconceived opinions, the female child protagonists create strategies for coping with the South’s burdensome histories of slavery, segregation, poverty, and religious and political crises.

Eudora Welty’s Nina Carmichael, a child at summer camp in “Moon Lake” in the story-cycle The Golden Apples (1949), thinks about “The other way to live. There were secret ways . . . to try for the fiercest secrets. . . To have been an orphan.”106 To be an orphan, readers learn, is to have agency to name oneself, to be free of parents and family who obfuscate, to wander into life’s dangers, to discover. The southern literary representations of young girls expose the myths of southern womanhood and destabilize the future roles into which the girls may be consigned.

Twenty-First-Century Women in Southern Literature

In 2002, Anne Goodwyn Jones argued that women writers of the 20th century, specifically Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, “by showing the consequences of a beautiful dream of sex and the link between sex and rage, the challenge to the dominant myth of asexuality is taken into another stage of complication and depth.” Likewise, “the myth of the white lady,” Jones points out, is disrupted when relations and confrontations among economic, social, and racial classes are narrated.107 The representations of women in southern literature illustrate the binaries of black and white agency, leisure and working class, inherited and contemporary mores, male power and female silence, innocence and experience against one another. These constrictive dualities that demand either–or situations establish stereotypes and prejudices that are duly challenged in literature which seeks to reveal the complexities of human relationships, not to crusade for a particular cause. This is especially so in southern literature by women and about women in the 21st century.

In the 21st century, women in southern literature are Native American, Latino, Hispanic, Asian American, they are members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) groups, political action and business communities, they express themselves in poetry, drama, memoir, microfiction, prose poetry, creative nonfiction, and in new genres made possible by the Internet. Introducing a “21c Fiction” special issue of Southern Cultures in 2016, Harry L. Watson writes, “In this newest South, novels about tragic mulattoes or doomed aristocrats seem hopelessly out of touch, and some writers and critics now speak boldly of ‘postsouthern’ literature.”108 In this same issue, Monique Truong’s novel Bitter in the Mouth (2010) is described as “explor[ing] not only a Vietnamese American’s experience in the South, but also issues of queerness, class, ability, and sexual violence.”109 Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina and Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature, 2005) asserts, “As much as my own narratives, even my most outrageous provocative examinations of dyke life, center on or reflect a Mama-centered matrix, I really do not accept any definition of southern literature that is delimiting or necessarily definitive.”110 Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) by MacArthur “Genius” and two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, and An American Marriage (2018) by Tayari Jones, also present southern girls and women wholly of the 21st century, confronting natural disasters, broken families, gun violence, drugs, incarceration, and racial profiling in rural, suburban, and urban southern spaces. Southern literature of the 21st century disrupts gender, race, geographic, historic, and political myths by dismantling stereotypical representations of southern women.

Discussion of the Literature

In The History of Southern Women’s Literature (2002),111 editors Carolyn Perry and Mary Louise Weaks assemble eighty-two essays averaging seven to ten pages, providing the most extensive study of the representations of women in southern literature written by women. Only a few male authors (William Faulkner, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Gilmore Sims, and Thomas Wolfe) are referenced for context in more than five instances. Each of the four sections begins with an introductory overview followed by essays on general topics of the period and then essays on individual authors. “The Antebellum and Bellum South (Beginnings to 1865)” includes essays on diaries, magazines, the novel, letters, captivity narratives, and gender issues, beginning with the settlement of Virginia by Europeans and Africans in the 1620s and 1630s. “The Postbellum South (1865–1900”) topics include women journalists, humorists, poets, novelists, and the New Woman. Part III, “Renaissance in the South (1900–1960),” incudes essays on modernism, the influence of Gone with the Wind, autobiography, myths of southern womanhood, the Southern and the Harlem Renaissances, Appalachian writers, social issues, and literary circles. “The Contemporary South (1960 to the Present [2000])” updates the topics from the previous essays to the second half of the 20th century, adding the women’s movement. The essays are clear, insightful, considering both specific ideas and more general concepts.

Anne Goodwyn Jones’s Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859–1936 (1981)112 is a seminal study of August Jane Evans, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Mary Johnston, Ellen Glasgow, Frances Newman, and Margaret Mitchell, all white “southern ladies” for whom “the very act of writing itself evoked within these women a sense of self-contradiction, for southern ladies were expected to defer to men’s opinions, yet writing required an independent mind.” An equally important study of representations of African-American women is Trudier Harris’s From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature (1982).113 Harris gives essential critical insight into northern and southern literary depictions of domestics in myriad situations, with extensive discussions of Charles Chesnutt, Kristin Hunter, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, William Melvin Kelley, Alice Childress, John A. Williams, Douglas Turner Ward, Barbara Woods, Ted Shine, and Ed Bullins. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders furthers such examinations, especially in southern literature, in Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory (2009).114 Wallace-Sanders’s book is the definitive and necessary study of the origins, exploitations, stereotypes, and roles of the Mammy in American literary, social, and political history. She gives Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Sound and the Fury, writing by Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain, and art by Kara Walker close examination.

In The Southern Belle in the American Novel by Kathryn Lee Seidel is the standard analysis of the stereotype of the belle.115 Seidel surveys 150 classic texts from the antebellum South to the Southern Renaissance (1832–1939), analyzing their socioeconomic contexts to identify and classify the many iterations of the southern belle.

Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing 1930–1990 (2000)116 by Patricia Yaeger masterfully disrupts the patriarchal, white canon of southern literature with new, provocative, and dynamic essays on gender, sexuality, bodies, throwaway culture, and, more generally, “Desegregating Southern Culture,” as one of her chapter titles reads. Yaeger presents readings of classic and undervalued black and white women’s texts that are imperative, not just alternative. The study both grounded and launched the feminist scholarship of southern women’s writing that followed.

Further Reading

Bercaw, Nancy, and Ted Ownby, eds. Gender: The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Vol. 13. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Crank, James A., ed. New Approaches to Gone with the Wind. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Foster, Frances Smith. ’Til Death or Distance Do Us Part: Love and Marriage in African America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Graham, Maryemma, ed. Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Harris, Trudier. Summer Snow: Reflections of a Black Daughter of the South. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Harris-Perry, Melissa. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

McPherson, Tara. Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Prenshaw, Peggy Whitman. Composing Selves: Southern Women and Autobiography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Prenshaw, Peggy Whitman, ed. Women Writers of the Contemporary South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.Find this resource:

Roberts, Diane. Faulkner and Southern Womanhood. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995.Find this resource:



(1.) Barbara Ladd, “Literary Studies: The Southern United States, 2005,” PMLA 120, no. 5 (2005): 1628–1635, quote at: 1629.

(2.) Judith Lowder Newton, “Power and the ‘Woman’s Sphere,’” in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndle (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 880–895, quote at: 883.

(3.) Barbara Johnson, “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion,” in Feminisms, ed. Warhol and Herndle, 694–707, quote at: 699.

(4.) Wai-chee Dimock, “Feminism, New Historicism, and the Reader,” in Feminisms, ed. Warhol and Herndle, 635–650, quote at: 645.

(5.) Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994). This text was originally published in Boston by John P. Jewett & Company, in 1852.

(6.) Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 17.

(7.) Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 36.

(8.) Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 179.

(9.) Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 377, 379.

(10.) Susanne B. Dietzel, “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,” in The History of Southern Women’s Literature, ed. Carolyn Perry and Mary Louise Weaks (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002), 164–168, quote at: 164.

(11.) See Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poems “Aunt Chloe,” “The Deliverance,” “Aunt Chloe’s Politics,” “Learning to Read,” “Church Building,” and “The Reunion,” in Complete Poems of Frances E.W. Harper, ed. Maryemma Graham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 117–130.

(12.) Frances Smith Foster, A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Reader (New York: City University of New York, 1990), 137.

(13.) Frances E. W. Harper, Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted. (Boston: James H. Earle, 1892), 94, 97.

(14.) Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner, 2011), 42–43, 44, 76.

(15.) Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 43.

(16.) “The Old Black Mammy,” Confederate Veteran 26, no. 1 (January 1918): 6, 45, quote at: 6.

(17.) William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (New York: Vintage International, 1990), 267.

(18.) Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 265.

(19.) Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 266.

(20.) Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 287.

(21.) Kathryn Lee Seidel, The Southern Belle in the American Novel (Tampa: University of Florida Press, 1985), 164.

(22.) Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1883), 469.

(23.) John Pendleton Kennedy, Swallow Barn (New York: G. P. Putnam’s, 1906), 78, 112.

(24.) Kennedy, Swallow Barn, 113.

(25.) Julia Dean Freeman, Women of the South Distinguished in Literature (New York: Charles B. Richardson, 1866), 499–511.

(26.) Freeman, Women of the South, 19–20, 28.

(27.) Freeman, Women of the South, 189, 193–194.

(28.) Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 25.

(29.) Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 957, 959; and Darden Asbury Pyron, Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 229.

(30.) Barbara Bennett, “Southern Women Writers and the Women’s Movement,” in History of Southern Women’s Literature, ed. Perry and Weaks, 439–446, quote at: 441.

(31.) Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie (New York: New Directions, 1999), 16.

(32.) Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (New York: New Directions, 2004), 15.

(33.) Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, 44.

(34.) Florence King, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 1.

(35.) King, Confessions, 53.

(36.) King, Confessions, 5, 66, 80.

(37.) Sterling A. Brown, “Negro Character as Seen by White Authors,” Callaloo 14/15 (1982): 55–89, quotes at: 77, 78.

(38.) Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 45.

(40.) Brown, Clotel, 60.

(41.) Brown, Clotel, 62.

(42.) Mulvaney, “Freeing the voice,” 23.

(43.) Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 9.

(44.) Jacobs, Incidents, 79.

(45.) Brown, “Negro Character,” 78.

(46.) Jacobs, Incidents, 137.

(47.) Jacobs, Incidents, 135.

(48.) Harper, Iola Leroy, 57.

(49.) Harper, Iola Leroy, 233.

(50.) Harper, Iola Leroy, 79.

(51.) Minrose C. Gwin, “Contemporary Writers and Race,” in History of Southern Women’s Literature, ed. Perry and Weaks, 455–466, quote at: 459.

(52.) Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, “The neo-slave narrative,” in Cambridge Companion, ed. Graham, 87–105, quote at: 91; and Margaret Walker, Jubilee (New York: Mariner, 2016), 94.

(53.) Walker, Jubilee, 288; see also 298, 336, 373, and 419.

(54.) Michelle Cliff, “The Black Woman as Mulatto: A Personal Response to the Character of Vyry,” in Fields Watered with Blood: Critical Essays on Margaret Walker, ed. Maryemma Graham (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 304–318, quote at: 310.

(55.) Margaret Walker, “On Being Female, Black, and Free,” in On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932–1992, ed. Maryemma Graham (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997), 3–11, quote at: 11.

(56.) Natasha Trethewey, Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2002), 1; and Toni Morrison, “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” in What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction, ed. Carolyn C. Denard (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008), 18–30, quote at: 24. Morrison’s essay was first published in 1971.

(57.) Trethewey, Bellocq’s Ophelia, 11.

(58.) Trethewey, Bellocq’s Ophelia, 40.

(59.) Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard: Poems (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 36.

(60.) Trethewey, Native Guard, 37.

(61.) Joanne Dobson, “Introduction,” in The Hidden Hand or, Capitola the Madcap, ed. E. D. E. N. Southworth (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1988), xi–xli, quote at: xii–xiii.

(62.) Dobson, “Introduction,” xiv.

(63.) Janet Gabler-Hover, “Augusta Jane Evans (Wilson) (1835–1909),” in New Georgia Encyclopedia.

(64.) Ellen Glasgow, Barren Ground (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1985), 3.

(65.) Glasgow, Barren Ground, 57.

(66.) Glasgow, Barren Ground, 103.

(67.) Glasgow, Barren Ground, 198.

(68.) Glasgow, Barren Ground, 280, 289.

(69.) Ellen Glasgow, “Preface,” in Barren Ground, vii–ix, quote at: vii.

(70.) Glasgow, “Preface,” viii.

(71.) Carolyn Perry, “Introduction to Part III,” in History of Southern Women’s Literature, ed. Perry and Weaks, 233–241, quote at: 238.

(72.) Glasgow, Barren Ground, 298. See Margaret D. Bauer, “‘Put Your Heart in the Land’: An Intertextual Reading of Barren Ground and Gone with the Wind,” in Ellen Glasgow: New Perspectives, ed. Dorothy M. Scura (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 162–182.

(73.) Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (San Diego, CA: Harvest, 1983), xii.

(74.) Toni Morrison, “Memory, Creation, and Writing,” Thought 59, no. 235 (December 1984): 385–390, quote at: 385.

(75.) Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 20.

(76.) Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 67.

(77.) Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 67–68.

(78.) Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 178.

(79.) Lovalerie King, “African American womanism: From Zora Neale Hurston to Alice Walker,” in Cambridge Companion, ed. Graham, 233–252, quote at: 236.

(80.) King, “African American womanism,” 236; and Walker, In Search, xi.

(81.) Alice Walker, The Color Purple (New York: Mariner, 2006), 195.

(82.) Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987).

(83.) Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings (New York: Penguin, 2014), 332, 333, 334.

(84.) Michele Moore, The Cigar Factory: A Novel of Charleston (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016), 260–261.

(85.) Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 38.

(86.) Kate Chopin, The Awakening (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981), 88.

(87.) Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (New York: Mariner, 1989), 4.

(88.) Chopin, The Awakening, 103.

(89.) Ellen Douglas, Can’t Quit You, Baby (New York, Penguin, 1989), 17.

(90.) Douglas, Can’t Quit You, Baby, 19.

(91.) Ellen Gilchrist, Rhoda: A Life in Stories (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995), viii.

(92.) Gilchrist, Rhoda, 3. Gilchrist plays on the typically derogatory term “broad” as her character Rhoda competes in the track and field competitions.

(93.) Josephine Humphreys, Dreams of Sleep (New York: Penguin, 1984), 3.

(94.) King, Confessions, 60.

(95.) See Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1991); Jean Wyatt, “Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” PMLA 108, no. 3 (May 1993): 478–488; and Henry Louis Gates, Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (New York: Amistad, 1993).

(96.) Caroline Miller, Lamb in His Bosom (Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 2011), 31.

(97.) Miller, Lamb in His Bosom, 115.

(98.) Miller, Lamb in His Bosom, 148.

(99.) Miller, Lamb in His Bosom, 226.

(100.) William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (New York: Vintage International, 1990), 169–170.

(101.) Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow: A Novel (New York: Algonquin, 2011), 5.

(102.) Joshilyn Jackson, Almost Sisters: A Novel (New York: Harper, 2017), 222.

(103.) Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (New York: Mariner, 2000), 119.

(104.) Lee Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002), 3.

(105.) Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, 4, 6, 13.

(106.) Eudora Welty, “Moon Lake,” in Stories, Essays and Memoir, ed. Eudora Welty (New York: Library of America, 1998), 435.

(107.) Anne Goodwyn Jones, “Women Writers and the Myths of Southern Womanhood,” in History of Southern Women’s Literature, ed. Perry and Weaks, 275–289, quote at: 287.

(108.) Harry L. Watson, “Front Porch,” Southern Cultures 22, no. 3 (2016): 1–3, quote at: 3.

(109.) Justin Mellette, “‘One of Us’: Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth and the Twenty-First-Century Southern Novel,” Southern Cultures 22, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 123–134, quote at: 124.

(110.) Dorothy Allison, “Twenty, Twenty-One,” Southern Cultures 22, no. 3 (Fall 2016): insert between 46–47), quote at: [6].

(111.) Perry and Weaks, eds. History of Southern Women’s Literature.

(112.) Anne Goodwyn Jones, Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859–1936 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981).

(113.) Trudier Harris, From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982).

(114.) Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

(115.) Seidel, Southern Belle.

(116.) Patricia Yaeger, Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing 1930–1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).