Date of Award

11-2-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

Nineteenth-century American history is full of avid reformers, both women and men, seeking to make drastic changes in the social, cultural and educational systems of their country. Margaret Fuller, writer, critic and cultural reformer, was a key figure in the advances for women on all economic and social levels. It is with Fuller's approach to female identity as offered in Woman in the Nineteenth Century that this thesis centers upon. The first half of the thesis establishes the narrow domestic and educational framework of nineteenth-century female selfhood upon which Fuller bases her approach. The first two chapters examine the way in which Fuller offers woman a way into self-definition- making, encouraging not only the reevaluation of past and present female roles, but claiming that positive potential selfhood is attainable by repositioning and defining woman both inside and outside of the context of nineteenth-century social, cultural, and gender norms. By refuting the socially rigid definitions of female education, the social institution of marriage, and the confines of domesticity, Fuller's text offers us a lens through which to examine both the inherent flaws and possibilities in approaching female selfhood outside conventional nineteenth-century ideologies of personhood.

Chapters three and four examine the practicality of Fuller's approach to female selfhood within the context of nineteenth-century women fiction, mainly, Susan Cummins' novel The Lamplighter and Louisa May Alcott's novella Behind a Mask. By examining the main characters of each story, Gerty Flint and Jean Muir, this thesis attempts to demonstrate the possibility of constructing a fully cultivated female identity based less on gender assumptions and more on the individual capacity Margaret Fuller believed all women held within them.

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