Date of Award

8-8-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Ronald R. Emerick, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Karen A. Dandurand, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Kelly L. Heider, D.Ed.

Abstract

This study examines the cultural and historical constructs of the patriarchal father, the dutiful daughter, and the “Cult of Southern Womanhood” that have impacted the depiction of the relationship between fathers and daughters in the works of southern writers Shirley Ann Grau, Gail Godwin, and Alice Walker. The authors illustrate fathers who influence their daughters by supplying their needs and supporting their desires, but also of fathers who have hindered the emotional growth of their daughters. The term father-force describes the characters’ understanding and revision of the power of the fathers over their lives. Evidence includes the primary works by the writers themselves, criticism of these writers from other sources, and their own words about their works. New Historicism theory supports the position that Grau, Godwin, and Walker use the historical context of the 1960s to help shape and articulate some of the more contemporary issues, anxieties, and struggles, reflected in the literature. The impact of father-daughter relationships in southern novels is an important aspect in the understanding of Grau, Godwin, and Walker’s contributions to American literature. These writers try to discover acceptable methods of dealing with their characters’ relationships with their fathers within the requirements of a society that has established clear roles for both father and daughter. The three writers emphasize good and bad examples of the cultural contexts being explored, and their writings show a historical perspective of the changes that have occurred in the South in father-daughter relationships from 1950 until the present time. The authors show their characters often becoming successful in the real world outside the home in an effort to gain their fathers’ recognition of their accomplishments, his acceptance of their individuality and differences from him, and his approval of their methods of gaining success. Strong feminists characteristics are displayed in the writings of the three authors. Grau, Godwin, and Walker share the characteristics of female characters that connect with their fathers through race, the burden of the past, gender, class and religious expectations.

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