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More Than Literary Artifact? Reappraising the Value of Julia Peterkin's Gullah Fiction

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Description: Julia Mood Peterkin, a white southern American novelist who was the first to render civilizing portrayals of American Gullah culture, is somewhat little-known in today's literary academia. Despite her reign from 1924 to 1934 as the most popular literary interpreter of the sea island Gullah culture, the bookshelves in most libraries offer only a sparse, if any, selection of her work. Zora Neale Hurston suffered a similar obscurity for nearly forty years before her life and fiction were posthumously resurrected into mainstream literary academia. In view of Hurston's revival and the artistic similarities shared by Hurston and Peterkin, curiosities arise regarding the continual obscurity of Peterkin's texts--why do her texts seem to linger as an artifact of a bygone literary trend? Is Peterkin's whiteness the only impenetrable element that prevents her texts from having a life in current academic discourse, or are her texts so racially problematic that they deserve to remain buried? Answering this is no simple task, for historical and contemporary criticisms of Peterkin's work are scant and often ambiguous, both in terms of vindicating and condemning Peterkin's portrayal of the racial `other.' What appears to be lacking in contemporary criticisms of Peterkin's work is a commitment to historical perspective. Applying an historical and cultural lens to the biographic, formal, and thematic aspects of Peterkin's texts, I argue that Peterkin's work is wholly significant, valuable, and applicable to current academic discourse. The biographic, formal, and thematic aspects that delineate the value of Peterkin's texts are defined accordingly: Peterkin's position as a white plantation mistress and subsequent ethnographer is the focus of the biographic portion of the study; the formal portion of the study focuses on Peterkin's heavy and consistent use of Gullah dialect in all of her texts; and the final portion of the study concludes with an examination of the ambiguous socio-racial themes presented in her texts. Five of Peterkin's texts are included in the study: Green Thursday (1924), Black April (1927), Scarlet Sister Mary (1928), Bright Skin (1932), and Roll Jordan Roll (1933).
Language: English
Format: Degree Work