Honors Theses

Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

The objective of the thesis was to study how the letter, as a narrative device provided by the epistolary genre, supplies unheard female characters with an avenue to speak when their worlds do not allow it. In the novels, the letters not only permit a female character to practice building a voice, but also provide a self-reflection and identification experience, which enables the woman to see where she is, rewrite her role, and control where she wants to go. Through reading Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, I argue that the letter grants female characters with the authority to discuss topics of desire, power, and gender expectations without restriction. Focusing on Walker's Celie and Smith's Ivy, the thesis explores how the epistle fundamentally nurtures their narrative voices, while Foster's Eliza sets up the history of genre and Semple's Bernadette challenges its future.

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