Date of Award

Summer 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Kate Cochran

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Sherita L. Johnson

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Charles Sumner

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Monika Gehlawat

Committee Member 4 School



This dissertation analyzes how twenty-first century southern literature employs rurality as a means of critiquing the dominant neoliberal impulse of an increasingly urban-attuned society. In times of transition, southern literature has traditionally turned to representations of rurality in order to understand, navigate, or resist change; rapid globalization has influenced contemporary writers to return to the rural in their fiction in order to expose manifestations of the urban/rural hierarchy and offer alternatives to a prevailing urban consciousness. This study’s Introduction discusses ways in which pastoral and anti-pastoral literary modes have framed rurality in southern fiction, specifically through depictions of the plantation South as an idyllic paradise in ante- and postbellum fiction and depictions of depleted landscapes as sites of abjection in Depression-era fiction. Contemporary writers employ aspects of both modes in their descriptions of rural landscapes and lives. Chapter II reveals how in Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, the privacy afforded by the rural landscape leads to conservatism as a political and a moral stance and a limited individual perspective, all of which contribute to the widespread acceptance of the institution of slavery in the antebellum South. In Chapter III, the effects of natural disaster on rural dwellers are shown to reveal not only racial and rural discrimination but also tenacious beliefs in fate and superstition in Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog. Chapter IV examines how Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! exposes the constructed-ness of rural identities and demonstrates how rural locations and identities can both be sites of resistance to land development and capitalism. Chapter V discusses how agribusiness contributes to material and existential alienation in Cynthia Shearer’s The Celestial Jukebox. This chapter also argues that true intersubjective community is easier to attain in rural areas than urban areas. Each of these works includes both positive and negative perspectives on rurality, demonstrating that the way in which rurality is narrated in literature can underscore its value in the modern world.