My dissertation challenges the dominant narrative identity about Western embodiment and opens the field of Western literary studies as it explores what the West looks like to women writers for whom it is not a space of regeneration through violence. I argue that women’s writing reconceptualizes Western literature, creating a counter-narrative about American identity by shaping a space for and a discourse about the embodied experiences that have been marginalized, silenced, and ignored. Through examining discourses of health and embodiment in women’s writing about the American West from the 1880s to the present day, my study brings together a diverse archive of narratives about bodies that have been excluded from cultural conceptions of the West: women with non-normative gender and sexual identities, American Indian women writers, atomic protestors and atomic beauty queens, and people with disabilities. My project drafts a new paradigm as it thinks of embodiment in the West, one that recognizes the body as both a physical object and a political one, and argues that the physical body holds meaning for the republic and its values. I focus on the tactics of storytelling and community building to disrupt dominant narratives that limit perceptions and representations of Western embodiment and what meanings that holds in our culture. The chapters are organized around themes that drive different manifestations of embodiment: alternative models of gender and sexual expression in chapter one, how the negotiation of language creates new modes of belonging in the stories of American Indian women’s embodied experiences in chapter two, the move from the West as a space of nuclear pageantry to one of protest in chapter three, and expressions of disability that push back against an ablest view of the West in chapter four. Chapters are not ordered chronologically; rather, they present different topics of embodiment and follow these threads through time to tease out the changing cultural landscape of Western embodiment. “Embodying the West” addresses a blind spot in Western literary and cultural history as it constructs an alternate genealogy of writers to make legible non-normative conceptions about the West and the bodies that inhabit it.
Level of Degree
First Committee Member (Chair)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
embodiment, American West, women's writing
Williams, Julie E.. "Embodying the West: A Literary and Cultural History of Environment, Body, and Belief." (2017). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/engl_etds/178