Date of Award

8-7-2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Ronald G. Shafer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Ronald Emerick, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan M. Comfort, Ph.D.

Abstract

This study explores the issues of “being American” in light of race, class, gender, and sexuality, which construct contemporary American identity as represented in the plays of Suzan-Lori Parks, Wendy Wasserstein, and Tony Kushner. Whites, the economically privileged middle class, males, and heterosexuals constitute the American mainstream, and many (in)visible types of social discrimination and prejudice by the mainstream culture against “the others” exist in contemporary American society. Despite their marginalization, these individuals refuse the mainstream’s views and seek for their own selfhood, autonomy, and subjectivity in life. Suzan-Lori Parks’s history plays protest against the erasure of African American history in American history and reclaim African Americans’ racial subjectivity through demanding their right to be fairly written and remembered in American history. In The Red Letter Plays, Parks criticizes the mainstream’s hypocrisy and economic oppression of the economic underclass by replacing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne with two black urban Hesters. Wendy Wasserstein dramatizes women’s dilemma of “having it all” in life and their pursuit of autonomous feminist subjectivity. Tony Kushner raises the AIDS issue to the level of a national problem, challenges the judgmental mainstream’s views of homosexuality, and seeks sexual subjectivity in Angels in America. The great melting pot as a metaphor for American society, at least as represented in these superlative contemporary American playwrights’ plays, is nothing but a myth and not a reality. Individuals are not completely melted as one; rather, they challenge the mainstream’s social mores and strive to recover their own autonomous subjectivity. Therefore, a quilt – harmonious, beautiful and preserving the uniqueness of its component parts – serves as a better metaphor for American society.

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