Title page for ETD etd-0129102-172747

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Colley, Sharon Elizabeth
URN etd-0129102-172747
Title "Getting above Your Raising:" The Role of Social Class and Status in the Fiction of Lee Smith
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
John Lowe Committee Chair
Dave Smith Committee Member
Peggy Prenshaw Committee Member
Rick Moreland Committee Member
Rebecca Saunders Dean's Representative
  • southern literature
  • appalachia
  • bourdieu
Date of Defense 2001-11-27
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation examines the role of social class and status in the fiction of contemporary novelist and short story writer, Lee Smith. As discussed in the Introduction, the study defines social class broadly, not limiting it to production, but also not discarding its economic underpinning. Max Weber's definition of class as "life chances" provides the starting point; any resources that can improve a person's position in the market place positively impact their "life chances." The resources appearing most often in Smith's fiction include economic capital and property, as well as education, family connections and occupational status. The discussion also builds on Pierre Bourdieu's position that taste plays a crucial role in social class status, shaping not only individuals' life chances but also their perspectives and aesthetics.

Chapter two explores Lee Smith's relationship to her childhood home and signature setting of Appalachia, first by examining her personal history in the region and then by exploring the connection of social class to sources for her texts. Indirect sources include local color fiction and some of the stereotypical images it promulgated; direct sources consist of a sampling of source texts from one Smith novels, The Devil's Dream. Chapter three systematically surveys the elements of social differentiation within her texts by utilizing social histories of the region; resources covered include kinship, land ownership and religion. The chapter also examines the varieties of small towns in Smith's fiction, including the stock Southern town, the coal-company town, the county seat town and the boom town.

Chapters four and five examine more closely two crucial element yet less tangible elements of social structuring in Smith's work-education and taste. Chapter four accesses scholarship on social class and education, including liberal, reproduction and resistance theory, to discuss the difficulties of physical and social access to schooling in Smith's work. Chapter five incorporates Bourdieu's theory of taste and Richard Peterson's concept of the cultural omnivore, which can be considered an Americanization of Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital, to examine the relationship of social class to one of Smith's primary themes, self-creation.

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