Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Catherine Keyser


In this dissertation, I examine how gender roles combine with changes in space and place to affect women protagonists in twentieth-century American literature. I argue that as these characters migrate, the (self-)perception of their identities shift. Particularly, their outward performances as well as their internal awareness change. My analysis concentrates on the novel genre because of specific characteristics—plot, characterization, and narration. The chosen literary works on which I focus are The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Quicksand (1928), Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), The Dollmaker (1954), and Under the Feet of Jesus (1996).

Concepts that I draw upon in this dissertation include transgression and paradoxical space. Female characters exhibit transgressive behavior as they migrate; their stress levels increase as they are around different people (who sometimes also judge them) as well as restrictive social mores and expectations. As a result, they become overwhelmed and act transgressively. The idea of paradoxical space emphasizes that the female self has an inner space (i.e., her emotions and thoughts) and an outer space (i.e., her external actions)—and she does not always express sensation in her behavior. I argue that women protagonists in migration literature (which my chosen novels represent) experience difficulties in achieving and maintaining a paradoxical space balance because a difference in geography leads to differences in their social and family environment. These changes affect gender roles that these women play, and correspondingly, they suppress their inner states in order to give expected external self-performances.