Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Katherine Joslin

Second Advisor

Dr. Mark Richardson

Third Advisor

Dr. Leander Jones


This study is interested in the motivations behind certain authors' attempts to, in the words of Willa Cather, "enter into another person's skin"~in the desires compelling writers to cross, transgress, or perhaps transcend those barriers that have historically divided people in the world: barriers of color, class, and gender. In particular it seeks to examine the works of four early twentieth century writers who undertake what these days is considered risky: transracial and transethnic crossings. By relying on biographical, cultural, and historical sources, I explore the strategies American writers Stephen Crane (1871-1900), Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872- 1906), Willa Cather (1873-1947), and Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) adopt in their attempt to represent and imagine what they are not. Specifically the study analyzes how each of them constructs the lives of others, those who exist outside the author's racial or social group.

As we near the dawn of the twenty first century, literary critics remain skeptical about the possibility that the imagination can do the work that all four of these writers believe it can do. At the heart of this dissertation, then, is an effort to explore the source of this skepticism by investigating how these authors' representations and impersonations of racial/ethnic others leave m any contemporary readers feeling ambivalent, uncertain, uneasy. This ambiguity is fueled by a series of questions that surface again and again in this critical examination: W hat function do racial/ethnic outsiders nave in the work and w hat do they offer the writer who uses them? Can any artist legitimately cross lines of color, ethnicity, or class? Can a writer's personal knowledge and experience living among racial/ethnic outsiders make for a more "successful" crossing? Does a writer's racial make-up better equip one to understand those who share the writer's same side of the color/ethnic line? Are movements across the lines of color/ethnicity or class, for all intents and purposes, the same kind of travel no matter which side of the line one begins? And finally, are w hat we have historically designated as color/ethnic/class lines more accurately represented as a continuum, governed by its own subtle gradations and levels?

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access