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This dissertation is a literary, cultural, and theoretical analysis of selected twentieth and twenty-first century novels and television in which characters cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The novels considered are: Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory by Emma Pérez, Dancing with Butterflies by Reyna Grande, and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. In addition, I also examine the television series Breaking Bad created by Vince Gilligan. I use McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Gilligan’s Breaking Bad to balance Chicana/o perspectives of border crossings found in the other novels in order to create a more complex picture of the border’s symbolic value for contemporary readers and viewers. Through a comparison of texts by Chicana/o authors to ones by Anglo-American authors, this dissertation argues that, in their attempts to disrupt power relationships represented by the border, Chicana/o authors construct more redemptive narratives that strive to understand and heal the cultural, economic, and social fissures found between U.S. and Mexican culture.
I first explore McCarthy and Pérez’s depictions of the historical violence that resulted in the wake of the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War. This comparison sets the stage for the rest of the dissertation, which goes on to treat texts individually while also showing contrast. The second chapter uses Chicana critical theorists such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Chela Sandoval, and Edén Torres to consider the ways in which the border informs perceptions of the female body in Grande’s Dancing with Butterflies. The third chapter argues for the importance of bringing comedic elements into border crossing stories through an analysis of class, race, and gender in Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North. Finally, the last chapter considers the ways in which Breaking Bad uses Western genre conventions to mythologize and exaggerate Mexico and the border for a U.S.-based audience.
Advisor: Amelia M.L. Montes