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Women who kill: Late twentieth-century American women writers rewriting mythologies of violence

Jaclyn Cruikshank Vogt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation focuses on the fictional woman who kills as a literary trope, in selected late twentieth-century American women's fiction. Drawing on an historicist, feminist, and multicultural framework, this project examines narratives published between 1979 and 2002, a time frame during which intense attention in the media and popular culture turned toward fatal female violence, as a response to feminist action and anti-feminist backlash. The authors considered here, Dorothy Allison, Gloria Anzaldúa, Octavia Butler, Sandra Cisneros, Janet Fitch, Jewelle Gomez, Linda Hogan, and Leslie Marmon Silko, present a diverse spectrum of revisionary texts that both claim and resist culturally acceptable narratives of fatal women's violence. It is my contention that late twentieth-century women writers give us the tools necessary to answer recent calls in feminist discourse for an expanded rhetoric of women's violence. In light of scholarship and popular perception that tends to split women who kill into highly polarized categories or gloss over them completely, the close readings presented here not only bring fatal women's violence into the scholarly conversation on literary violence, but also extend that conversation beyond reductive claims that fictional women who kill are inherently feminist figures. As a literary trope, the fictional woman who kills is incredibly complex and her rhetorical function highly dependent upon the historical moment and cultural climate in which she is imagined, published, and marketed. The texts examined within this project stand in as pairs of representative examples spanning diverse racial categories, including white, African American, Chicana, and Native American identities, with strong attention to the specific cultural context informing each of these identities. The stories of women's violence diverse American women writers tell—and the ways in which those narratives are constructed—reflect shifting attitudes regarding gender, race, and class. The women writers included in this study implicitly and explicitly call attention to the construction of master narratives as they probe and problematize reductive conceptions of American identity, and ultimately dismantle mythologies of violence and identity.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Womens studies|American literature|Hispanic American studies|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Cruikshank Vogt, Jaclyn, "Women who kill: Late twentieth-century American women writers rewriting mythologies of violence" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3617405.