Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Comparative Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Lutz Koepnick


Simultaneously a symbol for benevolent hospitality and hostile insularity, the American small town and its surrounding rural areas have assumed many faces and forms in both filmic and literary representations over the last hundred years. Whereas the metropolis carries with it a specific history and culture that is known, at least in part, by an audience, the small-town, with all its stereotypical associations, lacks an analogous geographical and historical specificity. As a result of this relative anonymity, the small town often becomes a blank canvas onto which a number of conflicting representations can be painted. Despite significant differences in historical, geographical, and cultural markers that distinguish the real differences between small towns and rural areas, a certain corpus of social and moral values, as well as social and moral transgressions, emerge in association with the small town that often supersede these differences. Deployed for ideological purposes, the small town becomes less a specific place than it is an abstract concept that quilts social, political, and historical discourses together through the values or social problems they come to represent. Psychoanalysis, particularly the work of Slavoj iek, will be particularly important for examining the fantasmic and ideological uses of the small-town as a floating signifier that can mean anything when deployed for specific discursive purposes. From nostalgic representations of the small town as the place of some original harmony to the rural area as a sight of the most horrific of actions, "the country" is an interstitial repository, somewhere between the untamed wild and the civilized city, where both idealistic and obscene fantasies can play out because they take place "out there" uncoupled from the influences and transformations of social progress.


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