Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Allen, Annette

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Crothers, A. Glenn

Committee Member

Fosl, Catherine

Author's Keywords

southern; autobiography; narrative; family history; Tennessee


This dissertation is a jointly scholarly and creative exploration of the potentials of autobiography. Specifically, this dissertation seeks to examine how the personal narrative may be utilized to undermine or challenge prevailing cultural myths and legends of the American South as they are manifested in master narratives propagated within an individual family’s narrative. As emblems of Southern culture, these master narratives have privileged the white male experience over other Southern voices. An interdisciplinary examination of selected historical and literary texts reveals certain external challenges to the resilient master narrative, but this dissertation suggests autobiography may prove a particularly potent force to challenge the narratives from within the alleged monolith of white, upper- and middle-class Southern culture. In so doing, this dissertation aims to evaluate the tension between connection and critique as experienced by the native Southern author. The dissertation is divided into five chapters incorporating scholarship from the fields of history, literature, and Southern cultural studies. Each chapter is comprised of five thematically linked reflective essays blending familial and personal narratives, and the chapters are connected by creative pieces, titled “interludes,” offering lyrical exploration of overlapping themes and images. The first chapter contains an overview of key thinkers and texts to establish a framework of inquiry—in short, the context for the current exploration. The second chapter examines Southern master narratives as they have been filtered through the histories of specific family units, and the third chapter explores specific Southern cultural values, including religion and the veneration of an agrarian lifestyle, adopted and adapted by white, middle-class Southern families. Examinations of gender roles and expectations comprise the fourth chapter, and the fifth chapter deals almost exclusively with questions of race.