Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Recognition, resistance and empire in the frontier fiction of Jewett, Cather and Ferber
by Gustke, Charmion, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2008, 161; 3297129
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines how female agency is negotiated in relation to U.S. expansionism in Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) and later Dunnet Landing stories (1899-1910), Willa Cather's A Lost Lady (1923) and Edna Ferber's Giant (1952). Focusing on the frontiers of Maine, Nebraska and Texas as borderland territories with mythic boundaries and displaced immigrant populations, I trace the permutations of empire and the growth of capitalism as experienced through the domestic politics of both home and nation. For each author, the turn towards female subjectivity is a narrative of recognition and resistance in which empire lurks, compromising women's work inside and outside the home. With the aid of theorists such as Homi Bhaba, Pierre Bourdieu and Gayatri Spivak, I offer an interdisciplinary analysis of these "regional" texts, demonstrating how the presence of white middle-class women on the frontier disrupts ideologies of dominance and control. Such an analysis encourages a reading of these texts that addresses historical specifics as well as global concerns.

Chapter One follows Jewett's narrator through Dunnet Landing as she employs the tools of ethnography to observe the rituals of Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Blackett, and the Queen's twin. Material objects of the European empire construct an ordered domestic interior where the narrator may escape the demands of city life. Chapter Two incorporates T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land to highlight the subversive and cosmopolitan elements of Cather's Marian Forrester, delineating ways in which capitalism is both sexualized and domesticated. I underscore the importance of hospitality, manners and mimicry in Cather's portrayal of the complexities of westward expansion on the Nebraska frontier. Chapter Three charts the monstrous fulfillment of colonial enterprise in Ferber's Giant, in which immigrant relations are portrayed in terms of the real and the imagined on the Benedicts' Reata Ranch. Focusing on the gendered components of the "civilizing mission," I suggest that Ferber portrays capitalism in oil-crazed Texas as a dangerous power that must be resisted privately and publicly.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Romines, Ann
Commitee: Grinker, Richard, Plotz, Judith
School: The George Washington University
Department: Human Sciences
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 69/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Cather, Willa, Domesticity, Empire, Ferber, Edna, Frontier fiction, Jewett, Sarah Orne, Postcolonial, Postcolonial theory
Publication Number: 3297129
ISBN: 978-0-549-44295-0
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