Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Reynolds

Committee Members

Marc Dolan

Vincent Crapanzano

Subject Categories

American Literature


regionalism, humanist geography, place, American literature, phenomenology


The ancient Greek notions of topos, or place, and choros, or region, emerge from a an oral, narrative-based tradition that predates geography. These concepts remind us that that best source of material to study place is to be found in literary fiction. American fiction in particular will give us the evidence by which we can compile a qualitative, experiential understanding of the role of place in people’s lives. This dissertation inquires into the formation of the imaginative constructions that characters put upon place—such as through the process of consolidating and dwelling in places—and the way place puts its own stamp upon the characters. The embeddedness of character within a topos or choros can be conceptualized according to three people-place relations: dwelling, movement, and encounter. The quality of each of these place-relations is examined in the context of five geo-cultural regions: Maine/New England, New Orleans, The Great Plains, the Southwest, and California.

Chapter One traces the origins of literary place-consciousness to the patterns of togetherness of life in a coastal Maine community, a site that replaces the more iconic nucleated New England village nestled in the woods. The isolated nature of life on islands and scattered in the countryside both prescribes and signifies the very ethos of Yankee individualism, of unity among diversity. Chapter Two tells the story of the establishment of what at the time was an American enclave in New Orleans, a city that in many ways despite its small size bears the same historic burdens of any other American region. This chapter emphasizes the perspective of beholder in the representation of place, dramatizing the clash of the perspectives between the Anglo-Saxon transplants and the Creole natives as they converge in 1803 New Orleans, depicting the consolidation of “Uptown Creole” as a distinct American nativity-based group, Chapter Three take us to a setting that seems to be as empty of history as New Orleans was replete with it, the Great Plains, where a new mode of dwelling and encounter hearkens back to primordial place-relations. The Great Plains setting invents a genre that I will call homesteading novel, of which Willa Cather and O.E. Rölvaag are most famous practitioners. Chapter Four brings us to the Southwest where the writings of Cormac McCarthy will reify the motif of the interconnection of dwelling and journey. The final Fifth chapter takes us to the edge of the continent in California and the beginning of a reaction against traditional notions of American dwelling. As the American empire runs out of space, Steinbeck’s characters are compelled to improvise alternative modes of dwelling in the fissures of the remnants of the myth of the California garden. Finally, this dissertation makes a global argument concerning the claim for the validity of a place-heuristic as means for reading literature, to enhance interpretative strength of the concept of place.