Date of Award

12-1-2012

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Brunner, Edward

Second Advisor

Shapiro, Joseph

Abstract

This thesis reads three American Naturalist novels, Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, and Kate Chopin's The Awakening, as challenges to both domestic ideology and to the market. Exploring the boundaries of an individual's interiority and exteriority, these novels suggest an alternate, more fulfilling existence, though never fully conceptualizing it. Naturalism presents characters who must make sense of their world almost wholly on a material level; the world presented in Naturalism is concerned with the what of a person, not the who. Capitalism splits the self by valuing the outward performance rather than the inward development. The female protagonists of these three novels attempt to gain happiness promised by consumerism through the only plot available to them, that of marriage. When this fails, they all three turn to artistic expression as a way to find the inner fulfillment their commercial society refuses. Carrie, Lily, and Edna value the art they pursue not because of its economic value, but because of the emotional liberation it allows them. In developing their art, each of these women gets the chance to examine the interior life that their societies deny. Looking at marriage and the market within these novels, this thesis examines the split between an individual's exterior and interior in fin-de-siècle American fiction.

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