Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of English
Roberta S. Trites
In this dissertation, I argue that adolescent literature featuring female protagonists often illustrates complicated relationships between gender and space. My contention is that because of their gender, these protagonists are uniquely constrained to the home, which creates a literary pattern that has serious ideological implications. While I argue that the dominant discourse of these novels implies that girls should adhere to specific cultural norms, some of these works, however, provide room for subversion and agency, including new ways of looking at patriarchal constructions. To demonstrate these issues at work, I use the novels of three female authors from three different countries to demonstrate how gendered spaces work across different genres and geographies. Margaret Mahy of New Zealand, Cynthia Voigt of the United States, and Diana Wynne Jones of England are all novelists concerned with gender issues, and their specific novels feature female adolescent protagonists struggling with society's expectations for their lives, their bodies, and their voices.
Chapter One begins with the introduction of my main argument: that adolescent female protagonists are often constrained to the home by cultural constructions of space and gender. I explain that the home is not always a space of entrapment or limitation, but that this dominant discourse is problematic even as some authors allow room for subversion and agency. In this section I argue that space and gender issues become problematic in adolescent literature because of the prevalence of the Bildungsroman pattern and the liminal status of adolescents in patriarchal culture. Chapter Two deals with overlapping areas of postcolonial theory and gendered spaces. In this chapter I argue that there is a problematic connection in some of Margaret Mahy's adolescent novels between the Maori people and the female adolescent body. I contend that this connection sets up a system of false binaries between Other/Not Othered, colonizer/colonized, and male/female; these binaries elide many considerations between these extremes, such as race, class, age, and various levels of agency. In Chapter Three I argue that unlike Mahy's novels, Cynthia Voigt's novels allow for a subversions of the binaries between the female adolescent body and specific spaces. I assert that abjected fluids are connected to the home and domestic labor. Using two of Cynthia Voigt's series, The Kingdom and the Tillerman Cycle, I discuss the ways in which this connection is problematic--because it limits the female adolescent protagonists to a certain kind of labor and space--but also how it allows room for agency--by showing the protagonists subverting the domestic labor they perform to make their own choices in the world. In Chapter Four I use the theories of ethics of care to argue that two of Diana Wynne Jones' novels provide much room for agency and do not limit the female adolescent protagonists to certain spaces. I specifically set out a model of balanced care for others and the self, which helps to break down binaries between male/female and the spaces associated with each gender. In Chapter Five I advocate for including more direct discussions of gender and space in the classroom, arguing that this type of discussion will lead to a deeper understanding of discourse, feminism, and power. I then provide a conclusion and overview of the total project. Throughout, I emphasize the element of choice in all situations connected with space; breaking down problematic binaries between difference conceptions of gender and space allows me to argue that an adolescent protagonist can be powerful in some ways and limited in others. However, I contend that the space of the home does not have to be a space of entrapment but instead can allow room for the adolescent female protagonists' choices and their ability to make their own decisions about the spaces they inhabit.
Pearce, Elizabeth Ann, "Limitation, Subversion, and Agency: Gendered Spaces in the Works of Margaret Mahy, Cynthia Voigt, and Diana Wynne Jones" (2014). Theses and Dissertations. 246.