Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Literary and Cultural Studies

Committee Chair

Ladrica Menson-Furr

Committee Member

Verner Mitchell

Committee Member

Charles Hall

Committee Member

Reginald Martin


This dissertation explains the significance of Zora Neale Hurston’sSeraph on the Suwaneeby using Paul Laurence Dunbar’sThe Uncalledas a literary framework. Hurston’s novel tells the story of Arvay Henson, a pretty, poor, white woman who advances to the white middle class. Intriguingly, Arvay and her family speak in a dialect that is very similar to the “black” dialect featured in many of Hurston’s other works. Sadly, Hurston’s decision to place “black” dialect or what scholars would call African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the mouths of white characters has allowed for the dismissal of one of her finest works.The two novels are similar in many ways. Both texts feature poor whites who speak in a dialect that resembles AAVE and who are also highly religious. InThe Uncalled, the main character, Freddie Brent, struggles with his human desires while being raised by the overly religious Miss Hester who wants Freddie to become a minister. Similarly,Seraph’sArvay is also consumed by religion and uses it as a crutch. In both texts, race plays an insignificant role. Hurston, like Dunbar, struggled to break from the race writing mold in which she had been placed to simply write about the human experience. Both authors wrote universal tales that could apply to any race or social class.In this literary study, I also propose the abolishment of the linguistic term African American Vernacular English (AAVE). I coin the term Impoverished Deep Southern Vernacular English (IDSVE) because it removes the race label that is problematic in AAVE. Hurston’s and Dunbar’s novels have been difficult for readers and scholars because the language patterns were labeled as black language in white mouths which often led to charges of lack of authenticity. Providing a better label for the type of language used by the white characters in the novels allows for a better understanding and hopefully embracement of the texts by readers and scholars.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.