Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Harris


This novel, The Golden Country, owes its structure primarily to the tradition of female quest narrative. Set in April of 2003, an outward journey provides the framework for an exploration of a young woman's evolving consciousness and developing identity. Ava, the twenty-four-year-old protagonist who narrates the action, joins her mother and another character on a journey across Pennsylvania to locate her missing brother. While the main action of the novel is presented chronologically and occurs over a brief span of time (several days), the characters' motivations and family dynamic are heavily informed by back story. Absolutely crucial to both plot and character is the death of Ava's father -- the result of leukemia contracted from Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam -- when she was a small child, along with her mother's subsequent immersion in a grief which takes the form of mythologizing her dead husband. In this context, Ava's journey evolves into a series of complex revelations regarding the other characters. Ava discovers that some interpretation of the truth about her family, and thus about herself, can only be arrived at through an engagement with narrative -- specifically, through piecing together her version of the truth from the other characters' stories. Along with the novel itself, the dissertation includes an introduction that reflects on female quest narratives and places my manuscript in the context of contemporary American letters.