Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The thesis examines female vagrant and outlaw figures in a selection of fictional texts produced in the 1980s. Using the idea of vagrancy in their characterizations of female protagonists, these texts revise persisting assumptions about women that are inherent in American culture. Beginning with a discussion of the reasons why women have been excluded, at least theoretically and ideologically, from a culture based on mobility, the thesis then considers two dominant and interrelated discourses in the American imagination--those of the frontier and of the myth of home--which are inescapable in any discussion of the American female outlaw and/or vagrant. This chapter is supplemented by readings or historical and fictional outlaw/vagrant figures: Anne Hutchinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, Stephen Crane's Maggie, Kate Chopin's Edna Pontellier, and Edith Wharton's Lily Bart.;Chapters two and three view the conflicted characterization and literary space of the mother outlaw/vagrant in Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here and Louise Erdrich's Tracks, Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. By emphasizing a specific historical context, I view these novels in terms of the changing formulation of the female subject in theoretical and cultural texts: for instance, the abandoned mother of conventional psychoanalysis is displaced by the as yet untheorized abandoning mother.;In chapters four and five, my emphasis shifts from the mother outlaw to the female vagrant. In examining the formal aspects of Ridley Scott's film Thelma & Louise and Edward Zwick's Leaving Normal, I suggest that the female vagrant, whether rendered as "outlaw" or "vagrant," is depicted in ambivalent terms. For the outlaw/vagrant is narrativized not only by the script, which tends to radicalize such a figure, but also by a set of technical devices, which tend to keep her as a passive object of the male gaze. The thesis then concludes with a reading of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which offers the most direct treatment of female vagrancy. The moment the vagrant becomes a palpable presence as protagonist and narrator, instead of an othered object of discourse, is precisely the point when the structures defining the vagrant are most profoundly shaken.



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