Loneliness, Isolation and Sexuality: The Portrayal of Adolescents in Carson McCullers' Short Fiction
Southern literature underwent a renaissance between the 1920s and 40s when authors of the era created works in a new literary mode called Southern Gothic and used grotesque elements to dismantle the idols and values of the Old South. Carson McCullers was one of them and her Southern Gothic style created a number of grotesque characters, many of whom were adolescents, who became the embodiment of southern society as it existed during the Great Depression in the 1930s and the Second World War in the 1940s. She told the stories of these socially-excluded children and ostracized teenagers who transgressed boundaries defined by the rigid social conventions in her short fiction. Using a queer theory framework, this thesis will analyze the grotesque children, adolescents, and families found in six of Carson McCullers‘s short stories—―The Haunted Boy‖ (1955), ―Breath from the Sky‖ (1971), ―Like That‖ (1971), ―Wunderkind‖ (1936), ―Court in the West Eighties‖ (1971), and ―The Orphanage‖ (1971)—with a special focus on expressions of loneliness, isolation, and sexuality. By examining these characters and their gothic manifestations, more insight can be gained into McCullers‘s thoughts on the crucial issues of her time, especially (homo)sexuality, gender expression (tomboys, masculinity, and femininity), sexual awakening, (dis)placement, and apathy. Analyzing these understudied characters is particularly important because they serve as significant forerunners to her later adolescent characters found in novels and plays such as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding and Clock Without Hands. Moreover, the adolescent characters in her short stories provide us with a window into American society, and especially the changing nature of the family unit, during the Great Depression and Second World War eras, which McCullers evaluates and critiques through a Southern Gothic lens.