Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)
A society whose economy becomes increasingly dependent on commodity fetishism cultivates obsessive materialistic desire in its subjects. The demand for mass consumerism buoys reification, a mania wherein human beings are analogous to goods and vice versa. Successful reification depends upon hegemonic apparatuses: social, legal, and political agencies of dominant ideology. Reification is perhaps most fully realized in the form of fetishized human relationships. In the United States today, the most coercive and unassailable hegemonic apparatus is the institutionalized nuclear family, a social and legal affiliation between individuals so dogmatically fetishized as to have become compulsory. Contemporary American women writers are asserting opposition to this institution. I begin by suggesting that Leslie Marmon Silko's use of magical realism in the novel Almanac of the Dead serves as a narrative device meant to disrupt the continuity of contemporary rationalization and resist the forces of assimilation, including the fetishization of the nuclear family. I proceed to examine Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills and Toni Cade Bombara's The Salt Eaters, suggesting that both entreat readers to recognize the impending desecration of the African American community that will come of allowing cultural ideals to be displaced by capitalist values and the myth of individualism. I suggest that each novel utilizes the disembodied female voice to demonstrate that the persistence of patriarchy will undermine efforts to resist reification, and that the nuclear family, completely naturalized within capitalistic hegemony, is the means by which patriarchy is perpetuated. Finally, I conclude with an analysis of Carolyn Chute's Merry Men, suggesting that Chute draws explicit connections between disenfranchisement, heterosexism and the tradition of the nuclear family. Within their novels, these writers critique our compulsion to fetishize the nuclear family. They conclude that the idealized nuclear family is an oppressive and ultimately unattainable archetype staunchly preserved primarily for its serviceability to capitalism. All four writers suggest that just as capitalism reifies human beings, so too the hegemonic operation of herding them into nuclear families alienates and estranges them. Thus it is that each of their novels concludes with the self-destruction of the community depicted within its pages.
Horton, Tamra Lynn, "Family Portraits: Contemporary Women Novelists and the Nuclear Family." (1999). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 7091.