Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

John Muckelbauer

Second Advisor

Qiana Whitted


The labyrinth is a prominent symbol in Western society whose first images can be seen inscribed above Neolithic tombs but whose current meaning has proliferated in pop culture and contemporary literature. The cultural presence of the labyrinth as a concept is wide ranging and diverse, spanning the entertainment media, the arts and literature, as well as the practice of religion and spirituality. Understanding the ancient labyrinth trope and its uses in literature and the mass media helps us to understand how we frame ourselves as subjects in the spaces in which we live, not only the physical spaces like hospitals, schools, malls, prisons, office parks, suburbs, and cities, but also the subjective positions we occupy as individuals in a vast network of complex relationships.

This dissertation seeks to understand the concept of the labyrinth as both visual and verbal sign given its dual meaning as unicursal path and multicursal maze. A constellation of concepts surround its use and the problem of subjectivity--in which the individual's identity is constructed in a complicated linguistic process--requires an additional layer of methodology in which the performative, rhizomatic, and aporiatic aspect of the labyrinth as text is addressed. The labyrinth describes the process in which meaning is construed, like layers, around the subject but it also describes the way in which meaning is unhinged and blocked around the subject.

This project discusses the labyrinth first in terms of language and identity, moves to transformation and identity, and then considers a variety of subject positions related to masculinity, race, the consumer, and femininity. Some of the following conclusions are made: 1) The labyrinth is a trope that enables a critique of the failures of representation and Realism; 2) It is a dual trope that addresses the danger and fear of being pinioned by identity--of being identified and categorized; 3) the labyrinth is a site for ideological prison as well as rhizomatic, subterranean burrow in which the subject navigates both identity categories of race and class as marginalized and liminal individuals; 4) The labyrinth's ambivalence enables a prison-like effect as well as a place of creative freedom in our modern experiences of technology, information, power, and commodification.