AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Re-conceptualizing gender through narrative play in fairy-tale retellings

by Christy Anne Williams

Institution: University of Hawaii – Manoa
Year: 2016
Keywords: gender ideologies; narrative structures; American literary fiction; American films; retellings; fairy tales
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2091563
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/100794


Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2012. This dissertation contributes to scholarship on contemporary fairy-tale retellings by exploring how gender is conceptualized, or not, as an unstable construct through specific narrative strategies. The texts I analyze are primarily American literary fiction and films, aimed at adults and young adults, from the past twenty years. I argue that narrative strategies affect the way gender is conceptualized in retellings even if they do not directly engage with gender concepts on the level of story. I suggest that gender conceptualization and narrative structures can work in concert, in opposition, or by revealing alternate possibilities, and I focus on the complexity with which retellings re-envision traditional fairy tales – paying particular attention to plot, narration, and metafiction. My purpose is to show how gender ideologies and narrative structures interact, and I conclude that the more disruptive the narrative strategies are to fairy-tale patterns, the more enabled the retelling is to question gender as a concept. Contemporary retellings engage their intertexts in intricate and complex ways that reflect contemporary theoretical work with gender by theorists such as Judith Butler and Judith Halberstam, and the resulting degeneration of fairy-tale narrative patterns opens up fairy-tale fragments to be signified in new and multifaceted ways. In each chapter I engage in both narratological and interpretative analysis in order to demonstrate the varied relationships between discursive structuring and story in fairy-tale retellings. I show how disruptive and destabilizing narrative strategies can reinforce thematic arguments about the construction of the wicked witch character in Robert Coover's Stepmother, Garth Nix's 'An Unwelcome Guest,' and Catherynne M. Valente's 'A Delicate Architecture.' I explore how reliance on plots from source tales undercuts thematic representations of gendered identity in three films, Ever After, Sydney White, and Aquamarine. I demonstrate how destabilizing narrative strategies, most notably lack of narrative closure, enable conceptualizations of gender not present in the source tales in Kelly Link's 'Swans,' 'Magic for Beginners,' and 'The Cinderella Game.' I analyze how Iserian narrative gaps and blanks produce a space for conceptualizing alternative gender configurations not present in the story in Robert Coover's Briar Rose and Jane Yolen's Briar Rose.