Date of Award

Fall 2021

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD

Program

School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Wendy Martin

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Mark Eaton

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Janet F. Brodie

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© Copyright Lauren Hartle, 2021 All rights reserved

Abstract

Perhaps there is no subject we so much prefer to let someone else think about as nuclear issues. Since the revelation and proliferation of nuclear technologies in the mid-twentieth century, American responses have followed an uneven path: spikes of attentiveness are followed by long periods of dormancy. Despite the inconsistent attention paid to nuclear issues, the atomic bomb’s impact on humanity’s psyche, its behaviors, and its products has been covered in a broad range of fields, and its significance is all but a truism. In studies of post-World War II American literature, the bomb is often taken as a given condition of the Cold War era. This inclination to treat the atomic bomb and subsequent nuclear technologies as an understood ground of the Cold War era fails to critically investigate how writers in the postwar accommodated and grappled with the bomb, as well as how the bomb’s influence continues to manifest in our cultural imagination. In this study, I explore the written texts that feature what I argue is America’s most psychically important nuclear site—Las Vegas, Nevada. My research seeks to bring together two neglected strains of American literary inquiry—one we avoid because of its seriousness, the other for its superficiality. By excavating Las Vegas as a nuclear site, my research provides a critical lens to view the culture built in and around the city that eliminates the evaluative bent of most critical investigations of the city that tend toward either the derision of mass man or the abstracted praise of a consumer paradise. My research begins with Las Vegas’s founding in 1905 and traces how published narratives (whether in newspapers, magazines, short fiction collections, letters to the editor, advertisements, pamphlets, or any other printed form) painted the city, including what it was like there, what could be done there, and who could do it. Excavating these early texts about Las Vegas reveals how frontier and western themes served to displace Las Vegas from its physical, political, and social context, which outside interests have capitalized on to exploit, decimate, and neglect the land and its peoples. By tracing the lineage of ideas that Las Vegas was built on and investigating the difference between those storylines from before and after the presence of the Nevada Test Site (which was established sixty-five miles away from the city in 1951), I argue that the atomic bomb magnifies themes and beliefs that were already present in Las Vegas. What other scholars identify as a major shift in what it means to be human, in my research instead exhibits as the extreme logical conclusion of policies and programs that operate with the assumptions that nature can and should be brought under human control and that there are people and places that are expendable and acceptable to sacrifice for the presumed needs of “the nation.”

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