Foodways and gender relations in the American naturalist novel

Lauren Christie Navarro, Fordham University


"Foodways and Gender Relations in the American Naturalist Novel" argues that food shows how novelists during the fin-de-siècle experienced and conflated changes in gender and class, reproducing these anxieties within their plots of personal and cultural decline. I argue that food links the stability of the domestic sphere to that of American society in the imaginations of Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, and Frank Norris. Foodways (the critical study of food production and consumption) reveal how women's upward mobility was contested (and related to men's decline), as well as the perceived coarsening of domestic love, during a time of rapid socioeconomic change. This dissertation argues that changes in foodways led to a divide between men and women that coincides with the widely noticed "naturalist plot of decline," which tracks a character's slow disintegration. Reassessing this plot device in light of how food operates as a social marker in Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900), Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905), and Norris's McTeague (1899) and The Octopus (1901), I argue that these authors explore larger anxieties about women's changing role, and render the effects of these changes in complex depictions of domestic economies and male-female relationships.

Subject Area

American studies|American literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Navarro, Lauren Christie, "Foodways and gender relations in the American naturalist novel" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3643076.