Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Ryan Trimm


This dissertation addresses the phenomenon of the white male nihilist as a recurrent character in British and American fiction post-1960. The utilization of this archetype by predominantly white male authors during this time period is symptomatic of the social, political, and economic changes that fundamentally altered the perception of the white masculine mythos in much of the Western world after the end of World War II. Because the perception of whiteness and masculinity is a primary signifier of the period’s changing value, my project approaches fictional texts of white male nihilism as objects of socio-cultural analysis that constitute a genealogy of, to borrow from Michael Kimmel’s Angry White Men (2013), the “aggrieved” white male. My location of nihilism within the discourse of white masculinity is based on the premise that white male privilege enables the nihilistic drive. I argue that this privilege is paradoxically the impetus of white male nihilism, which while often inextricable from violence and self-destruction, receives a certain amount of social permissiveness. Each of the texts I analyze in the chapters of my dissertation – John Fowles’s The Collector (1963), J.G. Ballard’s High Rise (1975), and Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero (1985) – is constitutive of a different type of white male character; they vary in age, social status, economic means, sexual orientation, and intellect. By examining texts that present a diverse range of white male characters, I hope to demonstrate that although nihilism is not limited to the white male population, the embrace of nihilism affords various formulations of white masculinity the ability to construct or disavow certain mechanisms of freedom and privilege.

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