As industrialism unmoored agrarian-based American values surrounding independence, individualism, and the gender roles attached to labor, it demanded imaginative solutions for these potentially broken ideologies in antebellum fiction. This project, in two parts, explores how factory women stood at the center of the industrializing U.S.’s cultural identity crisis. In Part One authors from Herman Melville to Harriet Jacobs imagine women laboring in the industrial marketplace as a form of deviant dependency. Here, sexualized depictions of female laborers symptomatize national anxieties about how economic change might transform political freedom by simultaneously modifying traditional forms of patriarchal control. In Part Two, Lucy Larcom and other female factory authors discard the yeoman farmer as an obsolete socio-symbolic ideal. In the agrarian’s place factory women scripted wage laborers, whose cooperative activity simultaneously transforms traditional womanhood and society at large. Stray Threads culminates in the image of the rented room, where interdependence is a given and market conditions rather than property are woven into the fabric of selfhood.

Degree Date

Fall 2017

Document Type


Degree Name





Steven Weisenburger

Second Advisor

Ezra Greenspan

Third Advisor

Darryl Dickson-Carr

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License