Thesis

Performantive Patriarchy in Three Turn-of-the-Century Naturalist Novels

ABSTRACT
 PERFORMATIVE PATRIARCHY IN THREE
 TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY
 NATURALIST NOVELS
 by
 Jacob Thomas Boone
 Master of Arts in English
 California State University, Chico
 Summer 2011
 This thesis examines protagonists’ paths to “failure” (and “success”) in three naturalistic novels that appear near the turn of the twentieth century: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899), Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900), and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905). Regarding the naturalistic elements within each text, I seek to introduce an alternative to the conventionally recognized forces (biological, environmental, sexual, etc.) which propel characters to the fates awaiting them at the novel’s end. I complicate the requirement of literary determinism in naturalist texts by appropriating the works of three theorists in order to demonstrate the ways in which characters’ forced “performances” of cultural values creates the determinism necessary to produce the tragedies inherent in these novels. In my analysis of the narrative courses of essentially three female and one male protagonist(s), I argue that the abiding social
 ideology—that of patriarchy—determines characters’ fates. Louis Althusser provides the theory of pervasive ideology that works in humans to commit them to accepting the established social order. Teresa de Lauretis provides the theory of the ideology of gender which works to give “meaning” to humans through establishing them as “men” and “women.” Finally, Judith Butler provides the theory of gender’s performativity which, through dominant society, both compels and oftentimes limits or destroys humans in their ability to represent themselves as individuals. In effect, I suggest that these authors demonstrated a world that coerces people to exist in the “accepted” way and how that world is intolerant of “other” modes of being.

ABSTRACT PERFORMATIVE PATRIARCHY IN THREE TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY NATURALIST NOVELS by Jacob Thomas Boone Master of Arts in English California State University, Chico Summer 2011 This thesis examines protagonists’ paths to “failure” (and “success”) in three naturalistic novels that appear near the turn of the twentieth century: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899), Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900), and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905). Regarding the naturalistic elements within each text, I seek to introduce an alternative to the conventionally recognized forces (biological, environmental, sexual, etc.) which propel characters to the fates awaiting them at the novel’s end. I complicate the requirement of literary determinism in naturalist texts by appropriating the works of three theorists in order to demonstrate the ways in which characters’ forced “performances” of cultural values creates the determinism necessary to produce the tragedies inherent in these novels. In my analysis of the narrative courses of essentially three female and one male protagonist(s), I argue that the abiding social ideology—that of patriarchy—determines characters’ fates. Louis Althusser provides the theory of pervasive ideology that works in humans to commit them to accepting the established social order. Teresa de Lauretis provides the theory of the ideology of gender which works to give “meaning” to humans through establishing them as “men” and “women.” Finally, Judith Butler provides the theory of gender’s performativity which, through dominant society, both compels and oftentimes limits or destroys humans in their ability to represent themselves as individuals. In effect, I suggest that these authors demonstrated a world that coerces people to exist in the “accepted” way and how that world is intolerant of “other” modes of being.

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