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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|American literature

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.