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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Asha Nadkarni

Second Advisor

Laura Doyle

Third Advisor

Eva Rueschmann

Subject Categories

Literature in English, North America | Other Psychology | Women's Studies


This project considers how socioeconomic impoverishment and society's failure to recognize working class women as valued subjects impinge upon a mother's ability to afford recognition to her daughter's selfhood. Situated within the larger North American literary tradition of fiction animated by flight in search of freedom, the texts here explored constitutes a subgenre that I term the “working class escape narrative.” Combining close readings of fiction by Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, and Sigrid Nunez with sociological research and psychoanalytic theory, I explore a relationship between mother and daughter characterized not by mirroring and bonding but rather the absence of intimacy and the foreclosure of the daughter’s idiomatic subjectivity effected through a particular way of relating shaped by economic necessity, imperatives of pragmaticism, and a desire for respectability. This trauma of recognition failure not only structures the texts’ plots and protagonists’ psyches but also is embedded in the forms and narrative strategies of the texts themselves. The subtle but significant differences in the ways in which the repudiation of selfhood is narratively approached and negotiated in the authors' early, middle, and late iterations of this subgenre reveal a transforming psychic relationship with intersubjective injury. My exploration of the working class escape narrative through time establishes it as a dynamic literary subgenre that offers insight into an evolving process of working through trauma via imaginative forms of narration.