Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Robert H Brinkmeyer


In this thesis, I examine the presentation of the child in James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Lillian Smith's Killers of the Dream as part of a rhetoric of growth. Both Agee and Smith present southerners as psychologically immature due to their traumatic childhood experiences of sexism, racism and poverty. Childhood is a recurring theme in both texts. Agee and Smith present childhood as a biological, developmental stage and a metaphor for growth in their texts. The child is a real, contextually-specific figure, drawn from Agee's and Smith's observations of children in Depression-era society. Images of children's bodies document the physical and psychological effects of social problems. Smith and Agee present these images as documentary material but the bodies are also symbolic, representing the children's trauma as well as signifying essentialised characteristics of childhood. The image of the child becomes a documentary icon, combining empirical, contextual details with symbolic qualities. In Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, images of children are part of complex metaphors, illustrating how children's growth is circumscribed. In Smith's Killers of the Dream, the child is a symbolic actor who models alternative social behaviors and suggests social change.