Date of Award
Master of Arts
Michèle A. Schaal
Dorothy Allison's second novel, Cavedweller (1998) continues her critique of Southern gender, sexuality, and class categories that her initial novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, began. However, despite the wealth of critical literature on Allison's first novel and Cavedweller's warm reception and recognition as a powerful LGBT work, scholarship on Allison's second novel remains limited. My thesis addresses the mysterious lacuna of critical literature by unearthing Allison's construction of gender and sexuality within the novel and presenting one of the novel's main characters, Cissy Pritchard, as a gender ambiguous and queer "white trash" character who challenges extreme gender roles in the rural South.
I examine the American South as a patriarchal space that encourages hyperbolic gender roles that incite toxic masculinity in men and induce fatalism in women. These extreme gender portrayals are particularly damaging to "white trash" women. I argue that Allison uses Cissy, as a gender ambiguous character who adopts a queer perspective while caving, to temper hyperbolic gender roles that lead to violence and (self) destruction. Through gender ambiguity, I contend, Allison presents a means to end patriarchal physical and symbolic violence.
This thesis also explores how patriarchal society removes women from their internal knowledge or erotic power through compulsory heterosexuality that reduces them to mundane existences. While Allison demonstrates that all women are empowered through female solidarity and the discovery of their erotic guides, I emphasize the significance of Cissy's discovery of her erotic self-knowledge. As a queer character, I argue, Cissy presents a possibility that exists outside of the oppressive double bind and can confront the physical and social violence that removes women from their eroticisms, sexualities, and identities.
Leah Elizabeth Wilson
Wilson, Leah Elizabeth, "Finding the erotic, embracing ambiguity, and escaping extremes: unearthing the queer experience in Dorothy Allison's Cavedweller" (2015). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 14473.