Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Klaver, Elizabeth


This study examines the Corvette, an automobile with a distinct place in American literature and culture. For more than fifty years, the Corvette has been in the process of becoming what is described as an "icon," although this progress has never been satisfactorily approached and explained. Why this particular machine has not just survived, but come to be recognized--by and large by most if not all Americans--as the signifier of various virtues (and some vices) is a question of some significance: in analyzing the reasons for the Corvette's long life and success as an overwhelmingly positive and distinctively American car, we look at the literature and culture of the United States. What this reveals is a complex web of ideas and attitudes that centers on one thing--a material object with six different forms over fifty years, yet one that has always retained its identity and power to signify. The approach here is thematic rather than historical. As a popular subject, the Corvette already has historians who look at it as a tangible thing that can be described, measured, and defined. My assignment is different: through the lens of critical theories, several of them, and a wide range of materials--film, novels, songs, and more--I seek to discover some essential aspects of the car that make its image dynamic and permit it to evolve over time. This is not an easy process; it has demanded an open mind to materials not often looked at in an English dissertation. The Corvette and its image are described in four areas and a conclusion: * The Corvette: the Empty, the American, and the Deadly Signifier (the original that becomes America's image of itself and the danger of speed and technology out of control) * The Image of Potency: the Corvette, Males, and Minorities (aggressive sexuality, African-American males, and male domination) * Women, Sex, and Identity as Power: the Corvette, Baddest Mother of Them All (phallic females, the car as sexual power and identity) * Corvette as Art: the Expressive Image (the car's own self-reflexive nature, the automobile as fashion--belonging ["I stand out, yet I belong"] and sense of self--and its presence in "art") * The Corvette: Image and Object




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