The Paradox of Domesticity: Resistance to the Myth of Home in Contemporary American Literature and Film
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This dissertation focuses on novels and films produced in the second half of the twentieth century that critique traditional notions of home in contemporary America to expand on the large body of work on American domesticity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These texts demonstrate the damaging power and overwhelming force of conventional domesticity, complicating traditional notions of home by speaking from positions of marginality. In each text, key figures react to limited ideologies of domesticity that seek to maintain sameness, silence, and servitude by enacting embodied resistance to domestic entrapment. The areas of convergence between the figure of the conventional, middle-class home, and the material and psychic reality of home disavow the expectations of the middle-class home ideal and offer real resistance to narrow, and often damaging, visions of home. These spaces allow for new conceptions of home and suggest that it may be possible to conceive of home as something other than fixed in place, governed by family and community, or created by prolific consumption of goods. In this way, this dissertation intervenes in the established binary of home/stability in opposition to mobility/freedom, which maintains the limits of appropriate ways of establishing and enacting domesticity along gender and class lines. By considering portraits of domesticity that are often left out of discussions of home in the United States my research intersects with a broad range of theoretical fields and discourses about mobility, historical and popular culture representations of the tramp, the body and surveillance, the home as spatial construct, and housekeeping as both oppressive and subversive. Drawing on historical and theoretical examinations of women within the home space, coupled with literary criticism and close-readings, I seek to determine the nature of confining domesticity and examine the varied ways that different groups of people respond to their entrapment. At stake in this dissertation is a deeper understanding of the ways that literary and filmic representations of home at the end of the twentieth century suggest a conflict between the ways that home and houses, are popularly represented and the fact that home remains a contested and dangerous space.
Cox, Kimberly O'Dell (2011). The Paradox of Domesticity: Resistance to the Myth of Home in Contemporary American Literature and Film. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from