Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeffrey Gonzalez

Committee Member

David Galef

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka


Jenny Offill’s novel Dept of Speculation explores the life of a female college professor who looks back on her marriage after her husband has an affair. Events are told through brief fragments. Much of the critical discourse surrounding the novel is concerned with its fragmentary form or postfeminism. In this essay, I assert that Dept. of Speculation is a reaction to neoliberal feminism because of the narrator’s multiple challenges throughout the novel. Some vocal figures within neoliberal feminism assume a woman can balance upward mobility in a career and life as a mother. The ability to maintain this work-life balance is deemed progressive, which places the responsibility of progress onto the individual woman. According to Catherine Rottenberg’s The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism, neoliberal feminism is becoming influential as a result of popular feminist manifestos such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” While both women have different areas of focus, they both suggest that women can have a happy work-life balance if they assert themselves in the workplace or advocate for their flexible work schedules to accommodate motherhood while also being responsible for their personal happiness. Due to this framework, it is now up to the individual woman to uphold progress by balancing a career and family. Offill’s Dept of Speculation challenges these neoliberal feminist ideals by detailing the narrator’s financial and personal struggles on top of these expectations.

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