Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Palliative memory is a new theoretical term used to explain how white readers engage with and embrace a racist text. This unique type of memory can be integrated with other theories, such as nostalgia, reciprocity, and prosthetic memory. Many memory theorists agree that memory is fluid. It changes and can only become a “fixed” memory if it is inscribed. Pierre Nora writes that these inscriptions are sites of memory. Sites of memory can include monuments or other material items, such as books.
This dissertation seeks to show the influence of palliative memory on race in the South, and how it has influenced the collective memory of this subject. I utilize the following texts: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Stockett’s The Help, and Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman to demonstrate how palliative memory can be both within a character in a text and about a reader and a text.
The term palliative memory comes from the medical field and is typically related to end-of-life care where patients are made to feel comfortable as they move through the death process. Palliative care does not change the outcome for the patient; it only makes the patient comfortable in the process. I use this term as a way to interrogate how readers embrace a text that is essentially racist as well as relational to the collective memory of race in the South during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
More specifically, the chapter on To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman addresses the notion that Atticus is a racist—not just in Watchman, but also in Mockingbird. However, because of palliative memory, readers are able to overlook that racism in Mockingbird. Watchman is an example of how palliative memory can be interrupted, and (white) readers must decide whether to re-engage with palliative memory or accept the new reality—that Atticus is a “good” man who is a racist. While others, like Monroe Freedman and Malcolm Gladwell, have called Atticus a racist in Mockingbird, I demonstrate that he is not only a racist, but that his ubiquitous message to crawl into the skin of another actually perpetuates racial issues between whites and blacks.
Criticism of Gone With the Wind’s (GWTW) racism has progressively increased over time. Even so, the text remains popular with white, middlebrow, female readers. Even southern scholar Patricia Yeager is mystified at her attraction to such a blatantly racist text. In this chapter, I focus on how restorative nostalgia helps readers connect with GWTW as a site of memory. Palliative memory is a way for readers to see the nostalgia and text in a positive light. GWTW has also impacted the collective memory of race in the South by spawning secondary sites of memory, such as in the tourism industry.
The Help was a wildly popular, middlebrow novel. Often passed from friend to friend, the book also found a home in thousands of book clubs. Readers often perceive this book as a positive and accurate representation of the South during the Civil Rights movement. In this chapter, I demonstrate that, rather than identifying with those in an oppressed position, the domestic workers, readers identify more with those in the hegemonic position—Skeeter. Palliative memory masks the racism within the text and its effect on collective memory.
Marzano, Lisa, "Making the White Folks Feel Better: Memory and Race in Four Best-Selling Southern Novels" (2019). Theses and Dissertations (All). 1765.