Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Lisa C. Minnick, English

Second Advisor

Jon R. Adams, English




This study considers the cultural history of the story of Porgy and Bess, from its first manifestation as the 1925 novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, to the 1927 play adaptation, to the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Heyward, a writer from Charleston, South Carolina, based the characters on the Gullah peoples of Charleston and attempted to represent the Gullah creole language they spoke in the dialogue of the novel. The representation of the creole language in the text of the novel, and the way the language changed as the story was modified to the genres of play and opera form the basis of this study. The first section of the work examines language variation within the texts, showing how variations in the dialect of the characters and the narrator denote racial and class divisions among the voices in the text. The second section considers Heyward’s history, his access to the Gullah peoples and language, and his attitudes toward the Gullah peoples as presented in the novel and his other writings. The third section considers the adaptation of the story into the forms of play and opera and examines the changes in language representation and language specificity as the story was adapted for an ever wider and more distant consuming public. These sections culminate to ask larger questions about the tension between cultural criticism of the story for its racial stereotyping, and its longevity in American and international culture.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access