Date of Award

8-1-2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Klaver, Elizabeth

Abstract

This thesis project analyzes the influence of the built environment on subjectivity in late twentieth-century American fiction. Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, I contend, uses domestic architecture to inform the concept of female-as-subject, specifically through additive and subtractive construction techniques. These techniques influence public and private definitions of female, as they are present at the level of the individual house as well as the level of the town of Fingerbone as a cohesive unit. Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides interrogates ethnic subjectivity in a suburban setting. A strict grid orders the suburban landscape which, although visually unifying a group of ethnically diverse individuals, ultimately isolates the subjects--down to the scale of the single-family home--as it encourages collective memory, ethnic repression, and the standardization of perspective. In these novels, architecture is an agent which negotiates subjectivity and the vehicle that communicates ideology through and with the material reality of these homes. Reading architecture helps us understand who these characters are and how the built environment shapes the way they have come to define themselves and others as individuals, which ultimately allows for the subversion of such definitions.

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