Education and cultural memory in American fiction post-Brown v. Board : Ernest Gaines, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Eudora Welty.




Akins, Adrienne V.

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This dissertation examines a number of historical novels composed and published during a time period when questions pertaining to education, equal opportunity, and expanding national memory were central to American consciousness. In the novels on which this study focuses, the centrality of education as a theme is reflected in the high proportion of classroom scenes and the large number of teachers who are key characters. The importance of education in Welty’s Losing Battles (1970), Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), and Silko’s Ceremony (1977) has not been thoroughly explored in the existing criticism. While the general theme of memory has been discussed at length for all three of these authors, there has been little consideration of the relationship between memory and education. Works by Gaines, Silko, and Welty have noteworthy similarities in their approaches to the topic of memory and its connection with education: the most prominent is an emphasis on what might be termed a collective, dialogical approach to the process of learning and the preservation of cultural memory. The divergent cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds that Gaines, Silko, and Welty bring to questions of education and cultural memory must be stressed, but the convergences in their imaginative treatments of these questions are also worthy of examination. My study considers the significance of these convergences and differences within the context of the historical development of American education during the crucial decades that followed the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. I also explore how Gaines, Silko, and Welty depict and critique curriculum and methods in the particular fields of social studies education, science education, and English language arts education, respectively. By putting the works of three diverse authors with distinctive concerns in conversation with each other, this study will also allow dialogical interaction and questioning to occur in the telling of the story of American education and memory in the crucial post-Brown era.