Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Lois A. Cuddy


Studies have tended to focus on implied, not indicated, silences and/or to define the silence as the opposite and inferior condition of speech, reproducing and reinforcing the man/woman hierarchical binary.

This study, defining silence as the complement of speech, analyzes the significant of silences indicated by words and/or punctuation. Its purpose is to illustrate that the author's uses of silence reflect her subject position during a particular historical moment, that trends in uses evolve gradually, and that their direction can be predicted. The principle novels and authors used as examples are At Fault and The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Contending Forces and Winona by Pauline Hopkins and Plagued by the Nightingale and The Underground Woman by Kay Boyle.

The introduction reviews critical perceptions of silence; informed by the texts of M. M. Bakhtin, Chris Weedon, George Kalamaras and King-Kok Cheung, redefines silence; and posits new possibilities for understating silence. The conclusion briefly analyzes Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones and Praisesong for the Widow.

Beginning with Chopin's novels, some of the protagonist's silences reflect the extent to which she conforms to the image of the Southern lady. Beginning with Hopkins's novels, the extent to which the protagonist develops a sense of self different from her subject position depends upon her speech community and whether members of it sometimes remain silent. Beginning with Boyle's novels, the community includes a person of race and/or gender different from the protagonist, and the protagonist, with the help of her community, uses silence to develop a new subjectivity.

All of these trends are confirmed in Marshall's novels, and, in the foreseeable future, they may be expected to continue in novels by women.



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