Project Director

Stuart, Christopher

Department Examiner

Hampton, Bryan; Rehyansky, Katherine; White, Michelle


Dept. of English


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Literary critic Leslie Fiedler argues in Love and Death in the American Novel that within classic American novels there is a reoccurring pattern of the pure female and the aggressive male. These texts give rise to the reoccurring scenario in which an innocent young woman brings about the salvation of the sinful, aggressive male. These men are saved through the good works and kindness of these women. Fiedler argues further that these women are an embarrassment to their literary tradition; he says that they "proved almost everywhere a blight, a universal influence which was also a universal calamity" (45). These women, he argues, are one-dimensional, cardboard cutouts of what women should be, and the roles these women embody are so pervasive in literature and in society that authors are unable to imagine a different type of woman. Fiedler explains what occurs when these stereotypical gender roles are so prevalent in fiction: In America, especially, the use of women as symbols of piety and purity led to an unfortunate series of misunderstandings. With no counter-tradition, cynical or idealizing, to challenge it, the sentimental view came to be accepted as quite literally true, was imposed upon actual woman as a required role and responded to by men as ifit were a fact of life rather than of fancy.(51) Because literary texts enforced rather than challenged these gender roles, women, as Fiedler argues, had no choice but to adhere to the places literature, and thus society, had created for them. Fiedler's pattern, however, is re-imagined with Southern authors William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, William Styron and Cormac McCarthy. Each author restructures the role of the pure female and the aggressive male, causing both gender roles to break with earlier established traditions. What occurs in these four texts is the re-visioning of the pattern established by Fiedler. In each text there is the typical pious female and the aggressive male, and in each text there occurs a moment when this aggressive male moves to kill these women. These women, born out of a preestablished literary pattern of what the female should be, however, embody more of the selfish and ignorant qualities than the pure and pious. They are righteous, self-satisfied, and often ignorant of the workings of the world around them. They enrage the aggressive male figures while simultaneously tempting them, causing a dichotomy of love and hate within the men of these texts. It is in the moment just before they kill these women that they are transformed from their preexisting roles. They are described in idealistic and divine terms; the authors thus elevate them to a higher role before their death. It is this transformation before death that causes the ultimate salvation of the men in each text; in watching the women undergo such change, they, too, become changed, re-visioning their life and their actions-ultimately showing that violence can bring about grace and that the existing figure of the pious female does not necessarily ensure the salvation of the aggressive male.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




American literature--Southern States--History and criticism; Gender identity in literature; Literature and society--Southern States--History; Sex role in literature; Redemption in literature


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Document Type



i, 53 leaves





Call Number

LB2369.5 .D467 2008