Illusions, Myths, and Great Divides: Representations of Literacy Narratives

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Summer 2022


This dissertation extends conversations in literacy studies, specifically surrounding the literacy myth, by examining three fictional novels - Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Susan Froetschel’s Fear of Beauty – which represent literacy and the way it lives. In regards to the ideological versus the autonomous models of literacy, these novels offer useful representations of fictionalized accounts that align with the ideological model of literacy and suggest the violence that is the perpetuation of the pernicious literacy myth. By coining and defining the term “literacy novels,” and laying out the tenets, codes, and markers of such, I argue that these texts illuminate the flaws in the autonomous model. The autonomous model is not only inaccurate but it is a problematic false consciousness used in perpetuating systematic oppression. The examination of these fictional representations of literacy extends understandings of the way literacy lives, and the ways in which it impacts the lives of working-class women. I use this dissertation to look at the rhetoric of illiterate working-class women and their paths to literacy and how acquiring traditional literacy impacts (or rather doesn’t) their lives. I do so through examining the literacy myth, and how it fails the characters repeatedly, in order to draw attention to what is rather than what should be regarding the way literacy lives.


Shannon Carter

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature