Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John Lowe


Homelessness occurs with uncommon regularity in the works of American naturalists, and in each case, the result of a character's homelessness results in a crisis of social identity and self definition. This pattern recurs in the works of the canonically identified naturalists, such as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser, as well as other writers who have only been tangentially associated with naturalism--Edith Wharton and Paul Laurence Dunbar, for example. In this study, I analyze the relationship between homelessness as it is represented in the novels and the political debate over the United States's imperialist aspirations at the turn of the nineteenth century. In chapter 2, I look closely at the effects that the loss of home has on the protagonists of Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods (1901), Norris's Vandover and the Brute (1894), and Wharton's The House of Mirth (1903). Through the physical dislocation of the characters, these writers explore the integral relationship between identification of the self within the structure of a home and the subsequent disruption of self identity caused by its loss. Chapter 3 expands the definition of home by looking specifically at the coterminous relationship between the woman's body and the space that she inhabits. Examining Wharton's Summer (1918) and Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt (1911), I demonstrate that, because of the social expectations that women should embody domestic values, women's homelessness is represented as a process of failure to project the self into the world. The final chapter demonstrates that the structure of the narratives enact the process of display necessary for the domination of the other and that this structure dramatizes and exposes the mechanism of colonialization. American naturalism ultimately reinforces the values of imperialism while critiquing the destructiveness of conspicuous consumption.