Date of Award

5-1-2010

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Anthony, David

Abstract

Naturalism, a genre popularized by Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, seeks to explore realism--specifically how nature and society create the real within which humans exist--through an impartial lens. However, these texts are unable to avoid impregnating their woman with meaning. The women, themselves, become part of the fabric of realism that entraps mankind, rather than a part of mankind. This project, in its conception, seeks to re-examine how the female body is used in the Naturalist texts McTeague and Sister Carrie. It questions the critical reception of the genre, seeking, rather, to elevate woman as the text's central protagonist. It seeks to re-explore Naturalism's women through a trope that isn't there: contraception. Contraception, whose effects spawned numerous social movements at the end of the nineteenth century, allowed women to interact with their own bodies in new ways. Women's bodies and the public conception of these bodies complicates the very notion of the natural, as presented in this text. Ultimately, it concludes that contraception, as presented in these texts, tends to defy the concept of the 'natural woman' propagated by the periodicals and popular culture of the day. It replaces her with our more modern and confused understanding of woman as product. These texts reflect this change through a trope that functions much like birth control: the effects of success are an absence. When it is successful it produces no sign.

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