Decolonizing the tropics: Gender and American imperialism in the Pacific and Caribbean

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Leslie Bow - Committee Chair


This study explores how contemporary American literature engages in processes of decolonization for the tropical island sites that were as a group subject to U.S. imperialism at the turn of the twentieth century. By combining post-colonial theories and feminist analyses of sexual difference, this dissertation examines how women writers in particular have intervened in the discourses of American imperial history to challenge the construction of imperial practices as masculinized, By staging various forms of gender transgressions, role reversals, acts of gender exploitation and of violence, contemporary American women writers have spoken to the complexity of imperial relations that remain noticeably absent from histories of American imperialism and its legacy in global discourse. Their literary responses have demonstrated how imperialism and gender interact. Gender emerges as not only an appropriate mechanism for critique, but also an essential consideration in analyzing the workings of imperialism because relations between men and women and imperialist power dynamics are intimately related. These writers therefore expose how imperialism is enabled through gender as a performative act, confirming that the articulation and perpetuation of sex roles sustain imperial activities.By challenging imperial history and responding to a tradition that excluded or ignored the perspectives of women as well as the subjectivities of gender, race, class, and sexuality, contemporary American women writers-including Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, Kiana Davenport, Rosario Ferre, Jessica Hagedorn, and Esmeralda Santiago---create their own anti-imperial discourse that engages in the project of decolonization for the islands. This discourse addresses imperial history's erasures and omissions and endeavors to revise representations of the Pacific and Caribbean islands---including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Hawai'i, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico---that were once together constructed as an overseas American frontier that served as the site of American imperial difference and thus the foundation of American national identity. I therefore demonstrate that anti-imperial literature recuperates history and re-imagines identity for the tropical islands by radically revising the conceptual framework through which we view the past and decolonizing cultures.


Literature, Comparative; Literature, Caribbean; Women's Studies; Literature, American

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