American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Madness as a Way of Life: Space, Politics, and the Uncanny in Fiction and Social Movements

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Ellen Berry

Second Advisor

Francisco Cabanillas (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William Albertini (Committee Chair)


Madness as a Way of Life examines T.V. Reed's concept of politerature as a means to read fiction with a mind towards its utilization in social justice movements for the mentally ill. Through the lens of the Freudian uncanny, Johan Galtung's three-tiered systems of violence, and Gaston Bachelard's conception of spatiality, this dissertation examines four novels as case studies for a new way of reading the literature of madness.

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House unveils the accusation of female madness that lay at the heart of a woman's dissatisfaction with domestic space in the 1950s, while Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island offers a more complicated illustration of both post-traumatic stress syndrome and post-partum depression. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and Curtis White's America Magic Mountain challenge our socially-accepted dichotomy of reason and madness whereby their antagonists give up success in favor of isolation and illness. While these texts span chronology and geography, each can be read in a way that allows us to become more empathetic to the mentally ill and reduce stigma in order to effect change.

This project begins with an introduction to several social justice movements for the mentally ill, as well as a summary of the movement over time. The case studies that follow illustrate how the uncanny and the spatial may effect the psyche and how forms of direct, structural, and cultural violence work together in order to create madness where it may not have existed at all or where it is considered a detriment when it is merely another way of living. The madhouses in the texts examined herein, and the novels from which they come, offer a way to teach us how to enact change on behalf of a community who still suffers from discrimination today.