Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Todd M. Kuchta

Second Advisor

Dr. Edwin A. Martini

Third Advisor

Dr. Jil C. Larson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jon R. Adams


vulnerability, motherhood, sacrifice, submission, sovereignty, women


Liberal feminism views vulnerability as weakness and dominance as strength. This binary parallels nationalistic assertions of sovereignty. Within militaristic responses such as the U.S. retaliation to 9/11, however, we see the cost of refusing to acknowledge our vulnerability. In my analysis of eleven novels arising from eight distinct nation-states and representing historical moments from the final decades of slavery through the early post- 9/11 years, I use alternative (queer, postcolonial, Islamic) feminisms to read power in vulnerability. I explore female characters who deliberately self-abnegate – sacrificing their lives, bodies, voices, and children – but whose actions can be read as empowered if viewed outside of the mandates of self-protectionism. I argue that such sacrifices reveal alternative modes of being that undermine aggressive practices done in the name of national sovereignty. At a moment when Western measures of success are being called into question, we are well positioned to examine the prevailing logic that privileges success over failure and dominance over submission. My goal is to unravel the terms by which we understand these concepts and to undermine the limitations they enforce by considering anew the widespread and long-held tradition of female self-abnegation. The characters I explore are citizens of different nations. They react to different political structures and self-sacrifice in different ways. Yet putting their narratives into conversation with one another exposes a pattern of gendered behavior that allows us to read their actions outside of particular cultural distinctions, disrupting both assumptions about definitions of strength and the reductive binary divisions between East and West. My hope is that – in reading female sacrifice not as evidence of weakness, but as an alternative source of power – I might contribute to a growing, interdisciplinary effort to subvert the oppositionality that undergirds our polarizing, academic gaze.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access