Date of Award

January 1940

Degree Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

The South, composed of whatever regions in the United States happen to fall below an arbitrary marking known as the Mason and Dixon line, has a widespread reputation for provinciality. Clinging in legend and actuality to the remembered glories of a departed order, it has come to be accepted as the region wherein new trends penetrate most slowly, encountered as they are by a resistance embracing the entire region. Balanced as it is against the portentous growth of Southern culture in the twentieth century, the popular conception of Southern provinciality offers interesting possibilities when applied to the development in the social and literary stature of the Negro character. It is, then, the possible contradiction in attitudes toward the Negro offered by two prevailing trends in the Southland, which motivates the present thesis, which is in reality a portion of a larger research study, to be carried on during ensuing years at Atlanta University, on the treatment of the Negro in the fictional literature of the entire South, for the purpose of determining whether the South's comparatively new intellectualism has produced any change in the attitudes and characterization accorded the Negro. This is not the first study of the treatment of the Negro in American fiction. It has been preceded by such studies as Willie Lou Talbot's "The Development of the Negro character in the Southern Novel, 1924-1900"; 1 John Herbert Nelson's The Negro Character in American Literature; Sterling Brown's The Negro in American Fiction; Nick Aaron Ford's The Contemporary Negro Novel: A Study in Race Relations; a goodly portion of Francis Pendleton Gaines' The Southern Plantation; as well as numerous magazine articles, the most valuable to this study being, Tremaine McDowell's "The Negro Character in the Southern Novel Prior to 1850"; and H. P. Marley's "The Negro in Recent Southern Fiction." None of these studies, however, has selected quite the province of the present thesis, which has limited itself to a rather short period of time and a comparatively small area. The period of the last twenty years was chosen, first, because it reveals the most rapid cultural advancement for the South, and second, because it is generally conceded by writers on the subject that this period has brought forth a new delineation of the Negro throughout the United States. The state was selected as a division of the total study of the Negro in Southern fiction, because of possibly distinct offerings in the cultural background of each. This limited range of material permits an intensity of treatment hardly possible in studies of wider scope. aThe treatment herein presented includes an analysis of thirty representative Louisiana novels, selected on the basis of as wide a scope of picturization of the state as the writer could procure. The chief basis for selection of works was the identification of the author, first by birth, and then by residence with the state of Louisiana. Works by Negro authors were excluded, because it was assumed that Negro authors would necessarily treat Negro characters with a certain amount of liberality. The cross-section of literature, thus chosen, reveals something of the variety of racial strains present in the Louisiana population: the Caucasian, the Creole, the Acadian, the Mulatto, and the full-blooded Negro. It also gives a running survey of the history of the economic, sociological, and political development of the state from before the Civil War to the present. The novels included in this study divide themselves naturally into two classes: those prolonging the traditional conception of the Negro, and those applying critical realism to the entire region, including the Negro and his specific problems, in a unified sweep of investigation accorded the whole South.{09}It is this natural division which, with the addition of a chapter on backgrounds, has determined the plan of the thesis, which will be divided thus into three chapters: (1) "The Cultural Heritages of the Louisiana Author," which will attempt to clarify possible approaches of the Louisiana author to the material he attacks, and which will place emphasis upon the growth and development of Southern literature within the province of the widely accepted aristocratic tradition. (2) "The Negro in the Novels Prolonging the Traditional Racial Picture," which will attempt to present the Negro as he is portrayed in those novels which, written between 1920 and 1940, adhere to the stock attitudes promulgated by the aristocratic tradition. (3) "The Negro in the Novels Criticising and Limiting the Traditional Racial Picture," which will attempt to define the attitudes toward the race, and to describe the characterization of the Negro in the novels applying the recent intellectual critical realism to the Southern regions. It has been the immediate purpose of the investigator to weigh reference and characterization in the selected novels from the time of the sovereignty of the aristocratic tradition to the present period of critical realism, in order to determine first, in what measure the treatment is typical of latter-day attitudes, and secondly, whether or not there is recognition on the part of the composite group of writers of the increasing degree to which the Negro has integrated himself into the cultural and intellectual advancement of the nation. The measure of the last premise will determine the degree in which the treatment of the Negro will be considered liberal. Acknowledgement is herewith made to the Atlanta University Library and to co-operating institutions who have made available the comparatively large body of fiction necessary for this study. 1Unpublished Master's thesis, Department of English, Louisiana State University, 1938.

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