All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Gale Temple

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) School of Education


For centuries, philosophers have been kept busy by the question of what it means to be recognized. In the early 1990’s the Critical theorist Axel Honneth synthesized ideas put forth by Hegal and George Herbert Mead to propose his theory of Recognition, which suggests that society advances forward when humans exercise moral recognition of each others’ positive attributes; only then can people within society achieve a positive-relation-to-self. While Recognition is not greatly applied to literary theory, I believe that we can use it to explain the main character’s interactions with the people in his community in Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree (1979). The protagonist, Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege to live among the underclass in Knoxville, Tennessee, is notoriously elusive in telling anyone – including the reader – why he has come here to the slums; he only reveals – briefly – that he wishes to be autonomous from his father’s world of the “responsible”. But in each of his interactions with the derelicts, misfits, and squatters in the barren wastes, we see his imperative to recognize the marginal as valuable members of society, by affirming their positive attributes. In Honneth’s view, this reciprocal interaction he seeks is termed “social recognition,” and should be the normative expectation in social interaction. When people are not recognized for their valuable attributes, it can lead to “social disrespect,” which threatens one’s personality and lead them to feel numbed my forms of misrecognition. In the Knoxville of the 1950’s, Suttree finds that the subaltern class have been down-and-out so long, exploited and dispossessed of life, culture, and tradition by agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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