From architecture to archetype: space and self in suburban literature

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University of Alabama Libraries

My project examines the complex correlations between architectural changes in the suburban home and representations of the suburban man. For years, these ideas have been discussed separately, but I forward a reading that presents architecture and archetype in concert. My project focuses on architectural changes to the suburban home and how those changes affect middle class anxieties of the midcentury. To further my argument, I rely on twentieth century suburban literature, starting with Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt and ending with John Cheever, Richard Yates, and John Updike. By comparing literature and architecture, I highlight the cracks in the monolithic image of the suburban man in media. To identify shifts in his character, I study the suburban man’s home. Material and architectural changes to the suburban home create specific zones within the house. For this project, I have designation the bedroom, office, living room, lawn, and kitchen as the key spaces to understanding the suburban man. The suburban man responds to the changing issues of his time, and the design modifications in the twentieth century work in tandem with the nuanced changes of the archetype. The suburban man performs a different identity dependent upon the room he is in, and as the rooms change, so does the suburban man. Despite his attempts to adapt, economic, social, and architectural changes leave him grasping for an identity that is no longer relevant to a world in which he lacks total control over his social and occupational life.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
American literature, American studies, Architecture