Clock Without Hands

Time After Time: Postmodernism and the Role of Linguistic Manipulation in Carson McCullers’ A Clock Without Hands

Carson McCullers’ 1953 novel A Clock Without Hands exemplifies the postmodernist tradition by establishing a continuum of four central characters separated by their motives for manipulating language. The spectrum ranges from white to black, both literally and figuratively. The characters at each end, Judge Fox Clane and Sherman Pew, represent extreme racial conditions and diametrically opposed world views. The Judge espouses the white, conservative cause while Sherman moves toward the black, reformist position over the course of the novel. Appropriately, the Judge uses language to maintain social hierarchy, whereas Sherman employs specific words to break down this hierarchy. McCullers sets two additional men, J.T. Malone and Jester Clane, in a more nebulous region between the peripheries. Unlike the Judge and Sherman, who use language to sustain and destroy Southern hegemony, respectively, J.T. and Jester share more individualistic motivations. J.T. uses words to denounce his identity as a dying man; Jester uses words to construct his identity as a learned, cosmopolitan liberal in a racially contentious national climate.

In 1979, French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard articulated what he called the “postmodernist condition”...

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