Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Hiram Perez

Committee Member

Sharon Lewis

Committee Member

Monika Elbert


In the 1944 publication of Strange Fruit. Lillian Smith attempts to identify the contradictions between external racial hierarchy, social class, and female whiteness by identifying them first as internal struggles that affected a southerner’s external existence. This is, instead, mis-read as a catastrophic love story between a white boy, Tracy Deen, and a black girl, Non Anderson.

However, this struggle of racial consciousness is a motif and driving force that heavily weights the intentions and choices of both white and black people in Strange Fruit. It is breath and instinct that lives in each southern inhabitant, it is the air of stagnancy and resistance to change in the name of tradition. It is the south. It is the people who identify with the south.

The idea of interracial couple and interracial community in the novel is used by Smith to bring the sexual, gender based, social and racial oppression of characters that are in direct contact with Tracy and Non, into consciousness but never into voice. Each character, suffers in stagnant silence, unable to move away from town or within the town. They are trapped inside boundaries—the expectations and rules—that have existed long before them. This novel should be read as a socio-gender-racial catastrophe for the characters involved rather than as the love story that first caught the attention of 1940’s audience, with Smiths memoir serving as a point of reference.

Although Strange Fruit has remained unnoticed as a place for extensive literary criticism and discourse, after employing Hortense Spillers discussion of Tzetan Todorov’s three dimensions of alterity from “Notes on an Alternative Model— Neither/Nor,” to expose the layers of racial consciousness of Smith’s characters who are held stagnant by the dominant patriarchy of the south, the split of human morality and racial consciousness is a literary tradition located in works of black and white American women writers, from Kate Chopin and Lillian Smith to Nora Neal Hurston, Gayle Jones, and Toni Morrison, the struggle to racially aware, self sustaining, and socially conscious is an American Literary feminist tradition. It is from this space that I ask the reader to enter.

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