Title page for ETD etd-04112005-105420


Type of Document Dissertation
Author Ng, Laura Ellen
URN etd-04112005-105420
Title Feminist Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction as Political Protest in the Tradition of Women Proletarian Writers of the 1930s
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
David Madden Committee Chair
Carl Freedman Committee Member
John May Committee Member
Robin Roberts Committee Member
Michaelene Walsh Dean's Representative
Keywords
  • feminist
  • American literature
  • popular culture
Date of Defense 2005-01-31
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
Contemporary feminist hard-boiled detective fiction has been studied as an adaptation of the traditional masculine hard-boiled detective genre. Writers such as Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller create compelling feminist protagonists to fill the role of detective. The successes and failures of these feminist detectives have then been measured against the standards created in the classic genre by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain.

The classic hard-boiled masculine genre came of age in the 1930s and 1940s at the same time as proletarian literature. The two genres share many characteristics including reliance upon first person narrative, the tough guy voice, an awareness of political and social hierarchies, and the utilization of realism. While women writers such as Josephine Herbst and Catherine Brody were drawn to the political cause of the proletarian, they were separated from the working class by their socioeconomic ties and from the literary proletarian hero by its masculine conception. Consequently, their fiction often included the middle-class woman intellectual struggling to help the oppressed worker. In these works, gender, class, politics, and social order are intertwined. The characters explore these concepts and what avenues of rebellion and power were open to women at the time.

The struggles explored in the writing of women proletarian writers from the 1930s have much in common with the issues examined in contemporary feminist hard-boiled detective fiction. Both genres show women characters with an awareness of the power of language to include and exclude, the importance of physical presentation and performance, the prestige of being associated with specific social classes, the power found in ties to communities and family, a problematic relationship with violence, and the power of revealing and interpreting information. It is clear that feminist hard-boiled detective fiction is then a genre of political protest in the tradition of women proletarian writers of the 1930s.

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