Thesis

Great social evil: images of fallen women and prostitutes in American literature from 1872 to 1952

The focus of this thesis is to examine the literary representations of fallen women and prostitutes in America during the late-19th century and mid-20th century. I analyze how four American novelists between 1872 and 1952 constructed their fallen woman and prostitute characters. Although many studies have addressed the historical presence and sociological effects of prostitution, few studies have addressed how fallen women and prostitutes in American literature reflect the social mores of late-19th century and mid-20th century America. I examine how the image of the fallen woman is depicted in Louisa May Alcott's Work: A Story of Experience, and how prostitutes are portrayed in Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, William Faulkner's Sanctuary, and John Steinbeck's East of Eden. The four authors in this study portray fallen women and prostitutes in a variety of ways to represent the social ills in America. I analyze how these authors address the social perspectives of gender and sexuality during the different time periods described in their works, from Alcott's sympathetic portrayal of Rachel to Steinbeck's characterization of Cathy, a woman determined to obtain independence.

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