Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation is an examination of three major twentieth-century American playwrights—William Inge, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee—and their dramatic use of childless women characters in Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) respectively. Although the plays of Inge, Williams, and Albee have been analyzed individually by numerous scholars, they have not been studied together as works about procreation and childlessness. The study's historical focus is the post World War II era during which time the three plays proposed for analysis were written and produced. Commonly called the baby boom era, the postwar years saw a marked increase in this country's birthrate. By turning to the perceived security of domestic life and traditional family values following the upheaval of war, many Americans created a cultural mandate that emphasized marriage and parenthood as essential to success, happiness, even national patriotism.

This study argues that Sheba, Cat, and Virginia Woolf complicate the idealistic view of domesticity many Americans embraced during the postwar years by truthfully exposing the underlying anxiety and disturbing sense of tragedy that characterized much of family life in the 1950s. Through extended readings of the individual works, this study seeks to illuminate the complex ideas about gender roles and family structures that emerge from the texts of the plays by exploring the socially, culturally, and psychologically subversive and disruptive potential represented in the presence of childless women characters.

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