Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert Reid-Pharr

Subject Categories

American Literature | Literature in English, North America


gender; New York City; performance; race; space; urban


This dissertation investigates the ordinary, public performances of fictional female characters in novels set on the streets of Manhattan during the years of legal segregation in the United States. I examine a range of actions from bragging to racial passing, and I argue these ordinary performances are central to our ability to interpret race, gender, and class relations. I detect race, class, and gender-based impulses to segregate and exclude others that overlap with the motives guiding the national, legal edict to segregate people by race. These guiding inclinations, legible through the history of Manhattan's grid, zoning laws, and the city officials' treatment of the poor, for example, are also the tendencies directing fictional characters in the texts I explore. By considering fictional performances against the backdrop of actual history, I ask how and why both real and imagined people aim to squelch singularity or uniqueness in themselves or others. I argue that while some performances deaden the fictional actors, others suggest there are alternative modes of acting through which one might be empowered by abjection despite it.