Author

Erin Guydish

Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Todd Thompson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David Downing, Ph.D.

Abstract

USonian identity has been defined controversially since its inception. Its representatives have largely been independent, white, wealthy, male, and heterosexual. However, the actual population of the US is more diverse and possesses much more complex identities. Some of the identifying factors of USonians derive from the US tradition of self-making. Traditional US self-made narratives, as with larger definitions of US identity, lack a full inclusivity and nationally representative characters, as scholars such as Mary Carden explain. However, rather than simply disappearing, traits of the US self-made man, as part of a larger national identity, continue to exist but in ways more suitable to the US nationality that has developed. For example, some of the newer versions of US self-makers include women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals.

The more important elements of the changing definitions of US identity and self-making, community building and belonging, arises when more diverse representatives appear in texts ranging from Susan Sontag’s In America to works like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. This dissertation studies more communal self-making models as well as US representatives who are recognized within texts and by readers in works by authors such as Philip Roth. The modeling of these characters results in the opportunity for readers to identify with them and/or some of their contexts. Such a relationship sets the foundation for what I have termed “fabulous ordinariness.” This means that despite possessing some fabulous or extraordinary storylines or characteristics, there are daily events, interactions, or traits that readers can empathize with, connect with, or feel represents them. Such experiences with the characters and texts provide the space for a representative relationship to be established and articulated as such.

The redefinitions of self-making and US identity, along with the enactment of fabulous ordinariness, ask readers to consider how culture, identities, and nationalities are preserved, challenged, and protected. Scholarship addressing traditional US role-models, along with works that support and challenge those representatives and roles, examines contemporary US identities and their connection to the past. This dissertation asks questions concerning the boundaries between fiction and history, culture and its artifacts, as well as readers and their texts.

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