Date

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Moglen, Seth

Other advisers/committee members

Foltz, Mary; Keetley, Dawn; Pettegrew, John

Abstract

Momma's Boy: Queer Masculinity and Cross-Gender Identification in U.S. Modernism traces a particular strand of non-normative masculinity in three major works of early 20th century American fiction: Willa Cather's One of Ours (1922), Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), and Jean Toomer's Cane (1923). Putting a twist on the traditional, Oedipal paradigm of male artistic growth, Cather, Anderson, and Toomer imagine the writer as growing, in the spirit of emotional communion, to resemble his own mother. Drawing on psychoanalytic feminists and queer theorists who explore the roots of normative masculinity and the wellsprings of possible alternatives, I argue that these authors value a form of male subjectivity that feels across the gender divide and that displays attributes conventionally associated with women, particularly emotional vulnerability. They represent this subjectivity as enabled by recognizing and identifying with women as creative, autonomous subjects. In their accounts, the capacity to be open to women in this way begins with the mother, specifically in the male artist's connection to her capacity for creative self-realization as well as the suffering she has endured under a binary gender system. By seeing this form of male subjectivity as viable, these authors show themselves to be emblematic of a modernist sub-tradition that overcomes the despair about unconventional forms of male desire to which many modernists surrendered. In this way, Momma's Boys expands our understanding of the gender politics of American modernism. It shows us, in short, that the depiction of non-normative masculinity as destined for extinction, the fatalistic version of the story of modern manhood made popular by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, was only one impulse within a contested literary movement.

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