Term of Award

Summer 2023

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature

Committee Chair

Olivia Carr Edenfield

Committee Member 1

Lindsey Chappell

Committee Member 2

Joe Pellegrino


Reflecting the inherently patriarchal nature of the colonization that birthed America as a nation, the American landscape English settlers sought to subjugate became connotated with the female gender through English colonial writing. American westward expansion gained greater allure than the overt appeal of conquest and agrarian industry when her untamed western landscape was likened to images of an unspent virginal bride or the breast of a nurturing mother. Thomas Morton likens the colonies of Maryland and Virginia to the Biblical figures of Leah and Rachel in his poem “New English Canaan” to demonstrate their equal worth as English colonies, though his allegory to the two faithfully subservient wives of Abraham does more to highlight the American landscape as something female-gendered, explicitly domestic, and vulnerable to domination. Even America herself is not free from the bonds of typical gender roles, envisioned not only as wife and mother but a both woman virginally untouched and sexually fertile. This simultaneous romanticization and feminine gendering of the land being subjugated by the English appealed colonization itself to the male gaze; as a result, the society built on top of this landscape came with a predetermined set of gender roles for women woven into the tapestry of the nation’s history. In turn, acceptable gender roles for women remained the same under the American Dream in being primarily domestic roles like wife or mother, amid less culturally acceptable roles for women, like the unmarried or the prostitute. The confining nature of these roles leads to a disconnect between the self and the gendered feminine self with which female characters throughout American literature grapple in individualistic ways. The women herein each reject the gendered roles that the American Dream provides; so too do these women— willingly or unwillingly— heed the call of a distinctly feminine wild, seeking to find a female self capable of fully functioning outside the boundaries of traditional gender roles and its oppressive influence on female gender performance.

Research Data and Supplementary Material