Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“An Extraordinary Meditation on the Self”: Robert Penn Warren’s Writings on Race
by Negrón, Dennis, Ph.D., Middle Tennessee State University, 2020, 221; 27671790
Abstract (Summary)

Robert Penn Warren made significant contributions to almost every literary genre, and at the center of a significant number of his writings is race. These works include a biography of John Brown (1929), his infamous essay “The Briar Patch” (1930), “Her Own People” (1935), “Pondy Woods” (1936), All the King’s Men (1946), Brother to Dragons (1953), Band of Angels (1955), and his two major works of nonfiction, Segregation (1956) and Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965). The central question which virtually all critical discussions of Warren and race attempt to answer is whether Warren’s racial politics evolved over the course of his career. While textual evidence can support the idea that Warren left behind the segregationist views he held in the 1920s and 30s, because Warren’s works also contain inconsistencies in the forms of omissions, erasures, silences, and perpetuations of racist stereotypes, his transformation will likely always be a topic for debate.

In Racial Politics and Robert Penn Warren’s Poetry (2002), the most recent book-length study on this topic, Anthony Sczcesiul concludes that the trajectory of Warren’s career reveals a change from segregationist to integrationist. Using Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), Szczesiul examines the Africanist presences in Warren’s poetry to reach his conclusion. My study also begins with Morrison’s concern about the “feats that white American authors perform . . . to erase the black presences in their works” (“Unspeakable Things” 369). My examination of the Africanist presences in Warren’s nonfiction as well as selected fiction and poetry—I identify W. E. B. Du Bois as Warren’s primary foil—calls into question his alleged transformation, thus challenging Szczesiul’s conclusion. Essentially, I speak the unspeakable, unmasking Warren as a perpetuator of white supremacy. I conclude with a discussion of interest convergence, a key aspect of critical race theory, and a call to resist memorializing Warren in such a way as to ignore or minimize the ways in which his works perpetuate a racist worldview.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Dubek, Laura
Commitee: Donovan, Kevin J, Renfroe, Alicia M
School: Middle Tennessee State University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Tennessee
Source: DAI-A 81/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Africanism, Critical race theory, Racial politics, Warren, Robert Penn , Morrison, Toni , Du Bois, W. E. B.
Publication Number: 27671790
ISBN: 9798641784311
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