Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Christopher M. Kuipers, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Tanya Heflin, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Abstract

Despite their evident usefulness and proliferation, sidekicks have been kicked to the side of literary criticism until recently. Now, thanks to the influence of artifacts like comic books and popular films, the study of sidekicks has begun a resurgence and might finally get the attention it deserves. The influx of multi-dimensional sidekicks has allowed literary history to shift its focus, and has provided a mandate for authors and other creators to promote the sidekick in new and interesting ways. Nevertheless, the literary sidekick has yet to be the subject of a significant critical study. Such a study should, I argue, focus on the cutting edge of the literary sidekick today: young adult literature (YA). YA has embraced the sidekick, recognizing the way the character can reflect for the YA audience the importance of growth and finding one’s place in the world. Because YA utilizes the sidekick in such creative and unusual ways, partnering the two reveals a rich literary synergy: first, readers finding their places in the world relate more easily to the secondary hero than the primary hero. Second, so many sidekicks recognizable in the popular consciousness are male; female heroes tend to be in short supply as well. YA brings literary depth here, as it has consistently and deeply connected with audiences through female heroes and sidekicks. Third, a rising trend in YA novels is to tell a story from the sidekick’s perspective, making the sidekick the protagonist. The nature of many YA texts allows the sidekick to grow beyond his or her literary or historical origins. This need for YA readers to continue their maturation and growth alongside literary counterparts, is supported by considerable YA scholarship: it is clear that as the sidekicks grow, the readers can grow with them. Over the course of this dissertation, I find and illustrate three distinct avenues through which this growth occurs. This dissertation will thus establish sidekick scholarship as a burgeoning field in and of itself, as well as its place within the scope of YA.

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