Domesticity, home and the culture of the everyday in four American twentieth-century novels

Christina Hunter Felix, University of Rhode Island


For the female characters included in this study, the home is the everyday. Many people spend the majority of their time and effort in the homeplace and, in many instances, sustaining the homeplace is one of the major motivations of people's lives. Home is where we are first constructed, raise our families, share with our communities, work, grow old and possibly, wise. Contemporary critical studies, however, vastly underrepresents this instrumental site in the development of gender, race and class assumptions and dictates. The homeplace, as the work completed inside it, is devalued, demeaned and often times, ignored entirely.^ To emphasize the home as a site in need of critical examination, I employ an approach that combines materialist feminism, theories of race and critiques of the outdated nineteenth-century theories of domesticity and the Cult of True Womanhood. By exposing both the ideological and material conditions of women's lives, I suggest ways in which the home determines women's lives and explore a contemporary critical discourse of domesticity. To demonstrate the homesite's far-reaching influences and its creative and subversive possibilities, this study examines the role of the home in twentieth-century American novels by women. The four primary novels of this study--Edith Summers Kelley's Weeds, Willa Cather's Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Gloria Naylor's Mama Day and Toni Morrison's Beloved--proclaim that the home has not diminished in importance since the nineteenth century. It is a crucial space for resistance and celebration. Although they illustrate that the home does not always act as a haven for its residents and functions differently for people of varied backgrounds and experiences, the novels also demonstrate that the home has the potential to bring together fragments of our lives, preserve traditions and grant us, as Morrison states simply, a "place to he in" (65). ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Christina Hunter Felix, "Domesticity, home and the culture of the everyday in four American twentieth-century novels" (1995). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9608895.