Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Matthew C. Roudané- Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Pearl McHaney

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Chase


This dissertation offers an analysis of the image of loss in modern American drama at three levels: the loss of physical space, loss of psychological space, and loss of moral space. The playwrights and plays examined are Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1945), Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother (1983), and Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive (1998). This study is the first scholarly work to discuss the theme of loss with these specific playwrights and works. This dissertation argues that loss is a central trope in twentieth-century American drama. The purpose of this dissertation is to analyze how the image of loss is modified and transformed in each playwright's work leading these images to reveal an emotional truth that transcends the plight of particular individuals or families and casting a universal appeal to a diverse audience. Chapters examine specific themes related to the theme of loss. As part of the critical methodology, the live spectacle of performance has been acknowledged. This study analyzes how Williams, Miller, Norman, and Vogel modify and transform the image of loss by focusing on the myth of the American dream, illusion versus reality, empowerment, and the complexity of human relationships. Although these plays are meant first and foremost to be appreciated as theater, that is to say "live performance," this study deals with these plays as drama, that is, as written texts. The audience observing the "live" spectacle and the reader of the text are both challenged to define their "own space." Williams, Miller, Norman, and Vogel, modify and transform the image of loss to reveal a common humanity that is not only a force in their work, but also a strong presence in the works of American dramatists as diverse as Eugene O'Neill and Adrienne Kennedy. From domestic drama to the drama of social and political criticism, Williams, Miller, Norman, and Vogel along with a medley of American playwrights, have taken the genre of American drama from backseat status (secondary to the novel and poem) into the forefront of recognized American literature.