Homeless chic: Cultural contradictions in contemporary American literature

Jennifer Joyce Kissko, University of Rhode Island


The dissertation, "Homeless Chic: Cultural Contradictions in Contemporary American Literature," explores and responds to certain problems and questions that matter with regards to the ways in which homelessness gets represented in literature. It considers the problems United States culture faces in its attempts to think differently about homelessness -- at the ways it appropriates or makes use of figures of homelessness, and the ways literature markets, thematizes, racializes, and symbolizes homelessness. Using contemporary American literature, the dissertation examines how U.S. culture likes certain narratives that challenge the ability to think differently. The readings model how conflicted American readers are on homelessness, illustrating that these contradictions are so deeply ingrained culturally that they then arise in literature. Drawing from novels by Sherman Alexie and Chris Bohjalian, and memoirs from Jeannette Walls, Steve Lopez, and Ron Hall and Denver Moore, this project unpacks some of the unexpected ethical challenges that tropes about homelessness pose. It contends that these books, as cultural products, are both complicit in perpetuating these narratives and committed to challenging them. This contradiction, like the oxymoronic fashion term "homeless chic," ultimately serves as a metaphor for U.S. culture's ambivalence about homelessness.

Subject Area

American studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Jennifer Joyce Kissko, "Homeless chic: Cultural contradictions in contemporary American literature" (2010). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3415494.