Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Alan Nadel


At the height of Cold War containment culture, when fears of Communism and nuclear warfare overlapped with anxieties about homosexuality, gender inversion, miscegenation, and juvenile delinquency, formal citizenship—narrowly defined as one’s legal status—did not provide all American citizens with a sense of belonging, equal access to civil liberties, and a reasonable degree of safety. Instead, spatialized identity, rather than civic responsibilities and legal rights, came to define the boundaries of proper citizenship. In this context, highly exclusionary suburbs, which sprang up outside major metropolitan areas in the late 1940s-1950s, emerged as a cornerstone of the cultural narratives defining American citizenship. This dissertation, Spaces of Citizenship: Negotiating Belonging through Cold War Literature and Culture examines how and why a white middle-class suburban household emerged as both the pinnacle of American citizenship and the main condition of national security in the aftermath of World War II.

Building on the work of feminist and cultural scholars, such as Aihwa Ong, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, and Lauren Berlant, this dissertation approaches citizenship as the process of subject formation in which the sense of national belonging is established through the cultural negotiation of multiple points of difference (gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, and class) in a local context rather than a legal category. This dissertation analyzes diverse representations of proto and actual suburban spaces in literature, film, and advertisements produced between 1945 and 1964 to highlight the major building blocks of postwar citizenship: 1) “proprietary whiteness,” 2) middle-class belonging through family-oriented consumption practices, and 3) mediation of the first two conditions through nostalgia for a mythic small-town citizen.

Chapter One provides a historical overview of symbolically significant residential shifts in the United States. Chapter Two examines how Member of the Wedding (1946), Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) evoke plantation mythologies to challenge the image of the South as the nation’s periphery at a time when Washington attempted to present American racism as a regional rather than systemic issue. When read against ongoing suburbanization and “race problem” films such as Pinky (1949), these works by Southern writers suggest that citizens’ equality would remain an unachievable ideal as long as the nation continued to cling to racially contingent forms of property and ideas of personhood. Chapter Three reads Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1946), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), and No Down Payment (1957) against their film adaptations and paratexts to reveal the many cracks in the industry’s portrayal of the middle class. When read together, these texts demonstrate how and why middle-class homeownership has shifted from the tool of consumerism into the measure of citizenship with the rise of suburban developments. Finally, It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Peyton Place (1956), discussed in Chapter Four, evoke and fracture the small-town ideal while middle-class suburbs tried to legitimize and preserve the notion of white purity through the imagined return to the New England village.

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