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Caught in the Middle: Homosexual Guilt, Liminality, and the role of the 'Novel of Identification' in Post-World War, Pre-Stonewall America


Goulet, Michael Anthony (2019) Caught in the Middle: Homosexual Guilt, Liminality, and the role of the 'Novel of Identification' in Post-World War, Pre-Stonewall America. Senior thesis (Major), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/5CN3-9084.


The 1950s and 1960s are often regarded as a transitory time period for the American homosexual man, overshadowed by the end of World War II and the tumultuous and radically influential Gay liberation movement beginning in the 1970s. The time period is marked by the publication and increased scrutiny of several influential novels: Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man (1964), Chester Himes's Yesterday Will Make You Cry (1937), James Baldwin's Giovanni’s Room (1956), and Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar (1948). These novels highlight the tensions of competing forces of continuing repression and increasing acceptance, and complicate and explore the richness and heterogeneity of the gay identity, even before it has fully nucleated in pre-Stonewall America. The novels’ protagonists often have strained relationships both with the conventional society in which they live, but also the homosexual communities that exist around them. The protagonists recast their homosexual relationships as ephemeral, exceptional in nature, or with conventional labels, revealing complex and contradictory ideas about their own sexual identities. The protagonists are forced to come to terms with their identities, a process more complicated than simply coming out to the world and crossing the not-so-singular threshold often associated with the contemporary 'gay closet.' Finally, the novels' often tragically unresolved endings challenge the idea that they may serve as "support" novels for their gay communities; instead, they are better understood as novels of "identification", since they uncompromisingly cover issues that have gone uncovered before this period, identifying the problems that the isolated homosexual may feel, and highlighting and scrutinizing a lack of conventional resolution.

Item Type:Thesis (Senior thesis (Major))
Subject Keywords:english; homosexuality; literature; post-world war; pre-stonewall
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Computer Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Sherazi, Melanie (advisor)
  • Haugen, Kristine L. (advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:9 June 2019
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06172019-231303940
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11740
Deposited By: Michael Goulet
Deposited On:25 Jun 2019 20:20
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:26

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