Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox

Second Advisor

Dr. Allen Webb

Third Advisor

Dr. Mustafa Kemal Mirzefer

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Lance Weldy


This study focuses on identity formation in three contemporary Arab American women's novels: Alicia Erian's Towelhead, a text written specifically for young adults, Laila Halaby's West of the Jordan, a novel that has been read and embraced by Arab American young adults, and Evelyn Shakir's Remember Me to Lebanon, a text that features a number of Arab American young adult protagonists. Central to my project is the question of how Arab American female protagonists negotiate a space for themselves within the power structure of their families and their communities in order to forge bi-cultural identities. The first and second chapters present background information on Arab American immigration history and culture, as well as a discussion of the social problems faced by first and second generation Arab American in the post-September l l l era. The third chapter sheds light on the reasons that many contemporary Arab American women writers have chosen to depict female adolescence with a focus on young women's negotiation of generational conflict and identity formation. In the fourth chapter, I consider how self-actualization functions through identity formation in Evelyn Shakir's Remember Me to Lebanon and Laila Halaby's West of the Jordan. My goal is to clarify how the protagonists build their autonomy, independence, and self-esteem, decide to live an unconventional life, to fulfill their aspirations, and to realize their potential through developing negotiation skills with the power structures that surround them. In other words, those protagonists who develop negotiation skills are most likely to achieve self-actualization. In the fifth chapter, I extend my analysis to Alicia Erian's Towelhead, a text that has been classified as a "crossover" - it has been labeled both a mainstream text and a text within the canon of YA literature - paying particular attention to the ways a shift in audience alters the text's narrative structure and focus. I also speculate on the reasons that Erian, unlike Shakir or Halaby, depicts secondary characters who are non-Arab.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access