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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Occupational violence and the crisis in white masculinity in turn-of-the-millennium American fiction Adleman, Daniel


My dissertation examines white masculine anxieties compelled by death and violence in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (1991), Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996), and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997). A close reading of the four novels in tandem reveals important dynamics of a subgenre of American masculinist fiction in a period of rapid technological change. The novels represent the travails of white male protagonists whose "occupational spheres," comprising jobs, domestic spaces and recreational pursuits, are meant to protect them from undesirable threats and the dread of death. I argue that these protagonists, who are immersed in their respective occupational spheres, do not comprehend the complex violence in which their occupations implicate them, nor do they appreciate the impossibility of insulating their “interior” simulated habitats from the supposedly toxic “outside” worlds that surround them. In the first chapter, I analyze Don DeLillo’s White Noise, which I claim inaugurates the subgenre of American fiction to which all four novels belong, and I conclude that the protagonist, Jack Gladney, is caught up in a cycle of "re-mediation." His efforts to remedy his ills are only remediated into a medial milieu that further undermines his agency. In the second chapter, I examine American Psycho and track Patrick Bateman’s occupational sphere, which manifests the classed, raced, and sexualized systemic violence of Wall Street finance. The third chapter on Fight Club explores the anonymous narrator’s violent occupation as an actuarial risk analyst for a major automotive manufacturer. The last chapter, on American Pastoral, analyzes the insidious violence of the protagonist Seymour Levov’s occupation as a glove-manufacturing entrepreneur and seeming-apogee of the Jewish American dream of white assimilation. This dissertation project is partly an intervention in DeLillo, Easton Ellis, Palahniuk, and Roth criticism, much of which is still atavistically stuck in a pre-digital moment. By and large, the existing criticism, I contend, does not pay enough attention to the densely-mediated environments inhabited by the novels’ protagonists. My engagement with these novels draws upon rhetorical analysis, genre theory, psychoanalysis, critical race theory, gender studies, and new media studies.

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