Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers

By Sarah Gleeson-White | Go to book overview

Introduction
Carson McCullers and the Grotesque

Leslie Fiedler has described American literature as “a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a land of light and affirmation” (Love and Death 29). More specifically, it is the literature of the so-called Southern Renaissance that has become synonymous with the grotesque, and Carson McCullers's work typifies both. Major critical studies of her work comment on the grotesque and its link with the strange world of the gothic, or its function as a bleak and violent response to the modern world, highlighting the ultimate “cheapness of human life” in the South.1 In sum, the grotesque, it is agreed, not only has a symbolic role in McCullers's novels and short stories, but it also forms a negative, unproductive view of the world and human activity. I would argue that McCullers's work has suffered greatly under the pall of these delimiting interpretations of the grotesque; the subversive nature of her project has thus necessarily been overlooked. In response, this study seeks to reevaluate the grotesque in McCullers's major novels—The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, and The Ballad of the Sa d Café— to consider what I suggest is their central focus: errant gender and sexuality.2 To reinvigorate the grotesque and its function in McCullers's texts, I employ Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the grotesque, which is at once both affirming and revolutionary. In this way, I seek to move McCullers's texts beyond the gloom and doom with which they have been charged for over fifty years.

Very little has been written on McCullers for nearly a decade, and so the enormous richness of her work in positing new understandings of

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