Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Shapiro, Joe


The omission of boredom from 1950s cultural and literary discourse is somewhat glaring, especially considering the frequency with which terms such as banality, conformity, and uniformity appear in scholarly and popular representations of the era. Such evocations of social and personal malaise derive from postwar sociological and theoretical critiques that rather uncritically dismiss mass culture as hostile to expressions of individuality. For Frankfurt school theorists such as Theodor Adorno, Henri Lefebvre, and Herbert Marcuse, the capitulation of individuals to a contented (and thoroughly dull) status quo is symptomatic of the disappearance of culturally distinct localities into a standardized national space, the parameters of which are determined by commodity culture. I argue that a closer inspection of filmic, literary, and archival texts from the era reveals the limitations of such macro geographies; texts often acknowledge such mass cultural rhetoric while at the same time offering a more nuanced and optimistic appraisal of the potential for meaningful engagement with the marketplace. Texts such as Norman Foster’s Woman on the Run, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, and John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” attribute postwar boredom to passive, diversionary consumption habits that mediate and inhibit the consumer’s ability to find fulfillment within local environments. By scrutinizing setting, characterization, narration, and other formal concerns within the context of boredom theory and Michael de Certeau’s spatial phenomenology, it becomes clear that these texts encourage a mode of spatial and cultural literacy capable of revealing opportunities for meaningful engagement within local environments that remain vital.




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