'Something dark': Metaphor and first-person narratives of female adolescence in American literature, post-1950

McLennan, Rachael (2006) 'Something dark': Metaphor and first-person narratives of female adolescence in American literature, post-1950. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In 1904 the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall published his two volume theoretical study, Adolescence - Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. This text established the conventional understanding of adolescence in twentieth-century Western cultures - adolescence as a time of significant hormonal changes, as a time of turbulent and conflicting emotions. Although attention has been paid to the way in which Hall enlists late nineteenth-century discourses of race, class and gender in his construction of adolescence, less attention has been paid to the fact that Hall's construction is informed by qualities he describes as both literally and figuratively adolescent, or that he labels America as both literally and metaphorically adolescent. It is the central contention of this thesis that metaphor and the figurative are central to constructions of adolescence in American fiction and literary criticism, and that failure to note this causes misreadings of adolescence in many fictional works. This thesis also aims to show a more productive way of reading adolescence, one in which metaphor and the figurative remain central. The introduction to this thesis illustrates how metaphor is central to Hall's work and to the work of several literary critics writing in the 1950s and 1960s, who apply Hall's notion of America as adolescent to discussions of postwar America. The introduction also shows how their constructions facilitate an erasure or distortion of female experience. As a counter to this, the subsequent chapters of this thesis examine first-person narratives of female adolescence in works published after 1950 (and which are thus informed by Hall's construction of adolescence and his notion of America as adolescent). The first chapter examines the Southern writer Jill McCorkle's construction of adolescence (one which relies heavily on metaphor). McCorkle's comments are modified for the purposes of offering a more useful understanding of adolescence, and then read alongside five fictional narratives of female adolescence in the American South - McCorkle's The Cheer Leader (1984) and Ferris Beach (1990), Thulani Davis's 1959 (1992), Josephine Humphreys's Rich in Love (1988), and Sylvia Wilkinson's Bone of my Bones (1982). The second chapter of this thesis examines how Joyce Carol Oates uses the concept of adolescence in her critical work. Tensions and ambivalences in Oates's construction of adolescence are revealed in one of her recent novels, I'll Take You There (2003). This novel is read alongside Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), Alice Hoffman's Property Of (1977) and a short story by Toni Cade Bambara, "Sweet Town" (1972) as these three texts provide useful corrections of and correlatives to Oates's critical thoughts. The third chapter of this thesis revisits McCorkle's metaphorical constructions of adolescence in order to show how the close connections between adolescence and metaphor reveal that the problem is one of how to signify adolescence. This chapter expands on Oates's implicit suggestion that the act of passing might be important to narrating adolescence. This chapter looks as two narratives of passing in adolescence, Danzy Senna's Caucasia (2001) and Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex (2003), the former foregrounding racial passing, the latter foregrounding gendered passing. These texts demonstrate how narrating and reading adolescence necessitates careful engagement with issues of signification (particularly in Henry Louis Gates, Jnr's sense of Signifyin(g)), passing, and metaphor.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: American literature
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-70995
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 May 2019 14:28
Last Modified: 09 May 2019 14:28
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/70995

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