Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elsie B. Michie


Two major arguments define this study, the first being that the gaze, a concept borrowed from film theory, provides a productive approach to many literary texts, whether central to the canon, like The Sound and the Fury and The Great Gatsby, or relatively new to critical attention, like Nella Larsen's Passing. Locating and following the gaze enables literary critics to bring into focus the power relations within narratives and the scopic negotiations by which hierarchies of privilege are established and maintained. Second, the study both argues and demonstrates that feminist film theory has prematurely closed important avenues of investigation by assuming that each text affords only one gaze and that this gaze is male. Through readings of literary texts and films including Days of Heaven, Rear Window, Mata Hari, Pinky, and both versions of Imitation of Life, I argue that what gives many narratives their distinctive shape is the battle among multiple gazers for dominance in looking relations. Through attention to process--the struggle--rather than end product--the denouement--the gaze is revealed as a site of complex negotiations relating to gender but also to race, sexual orientation, age, and class. In their multiplicity, their struggle to position themselves with respect to others who look, and their disruption or assertion of hierarchy, multiple gazers are important not just in themselves, however, or in the power they lend critics to read narratives anew. Rereading the gaze, especially the female gaze, opens up for spectators and readers a variety of opportunities for identification, including the possibility of identifying with contradiction itself. Integral to this study is an examination of the interaction between looking and knowing, for the gaze is used to gather information but also to police the knowledge of others through surveillance. While the gaze may be both a method for accumulating power and a badge of supremacy, the dominant gazer's position is made precarious by the inductive problem: no matter how much one looks or knows, it can never be enough. Consequently, the battle for a dominant gaze continues, multiplying the possibilities for new narratives, cinematic and literary.