Date of Award

1-19-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

James M. Cahalan, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Christopher Kuipers, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Patrick Bizzaro, Ph.D.

Abstract

The idea of the "contaminated community" is central to contemporary American environmental prose, but it seems to have been largely overlooked as a point of examination in current literary scholarship. Since Rachel Carson's 1962 Silent Spring, environmentalism has continued to grow as a big part of twenty-first century popular culture. Contemporary adventure stories, historical novels, mystery novels, memoirs, and apocalyptic novels--all of which I examine at length in this study--continue to reveal the fears of the potential for an environmental apocalypse due to human destruction of the natural environment, thus giving rise to the "ecocatastrophe" novel, which has grown in popularity since the 1970s. To engage in what Lawrence Buell calls a "toxic discourse" that addresses the threats to the natural environment as depicted in environmental fiction since the 1970s, this study engages a careful ecocritical examination of ecocatastrophic fiction and non-fiction focused on the "hometowns," or otherwise "contaminated hometown communities" inhabited by the authors and their characters. Using a variety of theoretical and critical approaches--including ecofeminism, risk theory, environmental justice, and place studies--I demonstrate how the study of regional, hometown literature that focuses on environmental catastrophe and the "lived experiences" of those facing the effects of contamination helps to better understand the environmental crises facing the United States in the past four decades. Additionally, I argue that despite our acceptance to "live with" our contaminated communities, a polluted environment can never become--for the sake of green activism and successful toxic discourse--normal, everyday activity.

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