Abstract: Family Dynamics, Social Realities and Small Town Life

Hello everyone! My name is Thea Gu, and I am a rising senior here at William & Mary majoring in English Language and Literature. In the summer 2017, I feel very excited that I will conduct a literary research on comparative analysis of twentieth century American and Chinese small town literature. Born and raised in China, I have always been fascinated by beautiful rural countryside and small villages there. This semester, the study of American small town literature has inspired me to combine my passion for both small towns and comparative literature together, and to create this project.

In this research project, I intend to focus on how small towns function as microcosms for larger structures such as cultures, regions, or civilizations, and how the social realities and family dynamics in small towns are different from the ones in bigger communities.

To answer these questions, I will examine three Chinese writers and six American writers’ works respectively. The most renowned small town in twentieth century Chinese literature is Northeast Township of Gaomi County, created by 2012 Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan. His Red Sorghum series and Big Breasts and Wide Hips will be my main research focus. Small villages in west Human province and unassimilated Miao people living in a traditional culture are characteristic of Chinese writer Shen Congwen’s fictions. The Border Town and Long River are classics of Chinese small town literature. His use of folklore and local characters has been compared to that of William Faulkner, whose short stories will be my primary source to study southern American small towns. The last fictional small town is Hibiscus Town in mid-south China, made alive by Gu Hua in A Small Town Called Hibiscus, which depicts ordinary small town people’s struggles during the Cultural Revolution. As for American literature, besides William Faulkner’s stories located in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, five small towns ranging from Midwestern American to New England are included in the project. They are St. Jude in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Greenville in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina, Winesburg in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Shady Hill in John Cheever’s The stories of John Cheever, and Peyton Place in Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place.

I am extremely grateful that Charles Center provide me such a wonderful opportunity to do something I feel passionate about. I cannot wait to share more of my thoughts and discoveries with you in the summer!