Date of Award

Summer 8-14-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Burmester

Second Advisor

Matthew Roudané

Third Advisor

Christopher Kocela


Extreme violence, which often results in murder, is a prominent theme in the American literary canon; therefore, it deserves a wider and more focused lens in the study of Twentieth-Century American literature. Murder and entertainment seldom coexist in canonical literature, but the very nature of the murder, foreign to many readers, consequently piques one’s curiosity, and demands special attention.

The literary texts I have chosen to discuss are four novels and three plays. They all belong to the genre known in literature as ‘a crime novel or play.’ The murderers are easily identified, and their criminal acts have been carried out successfully, often with much forethought and detail. My focus has been to conduct a psychological study to highlight the impetus for the crime. Three basic themes have captured my attention:

1- Is the murder a sin or a crime? What is the role of religion in the lives of the


2- Is it right to blame society for such horrendous acts?

3- How is the American Dream portrayed in these works?

The closer we get to the end of the Twentieth-Century, the harder it is to detect an affirmative ending in the works of literature I have explored. The insatiable appetite for material consumption overshadows the pursuit of happiness, or, maybe happiness is defined by material wealth. The critical question is: can American society read the warning written on the wall?