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Beyond gender: Constructing women's middle -class subjectivity in the fiction of Wharton, Austin, Yezierska, and Hurston

Phoebe Susan Jackson, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


This study argues the need to consider the impact of social class in women's narratives. Beginning with the turn of the century, a time of great social and economic change for women, I examine how women writers challenge and redefine traditional notions of middle-class womanhood in order to accommodate emerging feminist ideals, for example, the rejection of marriage for the pursuit of a career. Using the fiction of Wharton, Austin, Yezierska, and Hurston, I explore how the female characters of their novels negotiate between traditional roles ascribed to middle-class women and new definitions of womanhood symbolized by the appearance of the "New Woman." Interestingly, while some middle-class ideals are rejected, i.e. domesticity, two of these writers, Wharton and Austin, nonetheless remain committed to a middle-class ideology. For Yezierska and Hurston, middle-class acceptance means necessarily negotiating the uncertain terrain between a desire for middle-class stability and the reality of one's ethnic and racial background. By highlighting the importance of class in the construction of female subjectivity, my study of women's narratives makes a substantial contribution to the field of feminist literary theory. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Jackson, Phoebe Susan, "Beyond gender: Constructing women's middle -class subjectivity in the fiction of Wharton, Austin, Yezierska, and Hurston" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737543.