Campus Only Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
Professor Thomas Koenigs
Professor Leila Mansouri
The frontier has long been an important part of mythic American ideology as a space with untapped resources offering the potential for social mobility. This thesis looks at writing representing the three types of frontiers identified by Lucy Lockwood Hazard to demonstrate how this boundary between the “civilized” and “savage” actually reveals the instability and inaccessibility of the American Dream. Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail is one of the quintessential narratives about the geographical frontier; while deeply racist and sexist, it manifests doubts about the rhetoric of inhumanity attributed to indigenous populations. The industrial frontier’s creation of exploitative factory structures that were then translated into domestic spaces is illustrated by William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. The canonical novel speaks to the inability of the poor to achieve social mobility and the reemergence of social hubs as the space of opportunity. Finally, Jade Chang’s 2016 debut novel, The Wangs vs. the World, works to completely reframe the frontier genre by positing characters of color as protagonists, resisting their typical location on the “savage” side of the frontier binary. Chang uses the concept of the spiritual frontier to foreground the difficulties minorities face in order to be accepted into white society. The instabilities manifested by each of these frontiers ultimately point to the ways in which the American Dream has historically been an escapist impossibility and inflicted violence on women, lower classes, and people of color.
Leung, Elizabeth, ""Our Failures Will Ever Be Epic": The Genre of the Frontier Novel and Accessibility to the American Dream" (2019). Scripps Senior Theses. 1398.
This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.