Date of Award

1-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Monika Elbert

Committee Member

Laura Nicosia

Committee Member

Wendy Nielsen

Subject(s)

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) -- Criticism and interpretation, Feminism and literature, Wit and humor

Abstract

Central to the Female Gothic is a woman searching for her identity in the confinements of society. Utilizing Louisa May Alcott’s Gothic works, I will examine the extent to which the formation of an identity is subjected to internalized forces of normalcy. In “A Whisper in the Dark” (1863), “V.V.; Plots and Counterplots” (1865), and “Behind a Mask, or a Woman’s Power” (1866), Alcott explores themes of feminine identity, power, and sexuality. Alcott both subverts and adheres to gender roles to reveal their falsehood. Furthermore, Alcott exposes the effect of the patriarchal order on both men and women by destabilizing the feminine and masculine gender binary. Throughout the texts, the heroines wear a mask to adhere to nineteenthcentury feminine ideals because the oppressive patriarchal structures motivate their subterfuge; however, there is a split between the outer appearance of adherence to nineteenth-century expectations and the inner psychology of the heroine.

The heroine’s use of manipulation through performance and language demonstrate a prevailing desire for agency. In the end, Alcott does not condemn her heroines for being manipulative; instead, she implicates the societal structures that cause the heroine to don a mask for survival. Due to the limited possibilities for women, Alcott’s gothic heroines appear more sympathetic as a result of their oppressive situations. By examining Alcott’s works with a feminist lens, specifically utilizing Judith Butler and Hélène Cixous, I will analyze how Alcott's deconstruction of the gender binary through her gothic heroines reveals the paradox of performative aspects of gender, which must remain within the confines of the patriarchal structure in order for the woman to gain agency.

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