Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Stecopoulos, Harilaos

Second Advisor

Witt, Doris

First Committee Member

Glass, Loren

Second Committee Member

Adams, Bluford

Third Committee Member

Thaggert, Miriam


This project examines how late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century writers used food imagery and scenes of consumption to characterize immigrants in works of American literary realism. I argue that William Dean Howells’s construction of realism—supported by the publishing industry’s elitism—reinforced existing cultural and class hierarchies by perpetuating divisions between narrator and subject, native and immigrant. Tacitly responding to the ideologies of Howellsian realism, writers Stephen Crane, Sarah Orne Jewett, James Weldon Johnson, and Willa Cather used food scenes to promote cultural pluralism, or alternately, to replicate the hierarchal narrative structures underpinning the genre. At the same time, these writers responded to traditional formulations of the relationship between identity and consumption as enforced by a long-standing hierarchy of the senses, women’s domestic reform movements, and the industrialization and corporatization of the food industry at the century’s turn.

The chapters of this project examine different facets of realism: naturalism, regionalism, the passing narrative, and the turn toward modernism, respectively. Each chapter also explores different aspects of American culinary history, including debates about the sensory body, the rise of domestic science and early home economics, and the mass production of food—all important developments that shaped the way Americans understood the role of food and eating in their lives. By focusing on the parallel ideological imperatives of consumption and narration within American literary realism, this study provides a more comprehensive view of how power was constituted at the century’s turn based on ideas about how individuals should consume the world around them, and furthermore, how one’s approaches to consumption could be a means of obtaining—or forfeiting—claims to national citizenship.


vi, 222 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 202-222).


Copyright © 2018 Stephanie A. Tsank