Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts






american, audiences, death, women’s, deaths


American literature is “pathologically obsessed with death” (Blurb from Love and Death in the American Novel). From The Great Gatsby to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, death remains a popular motif in classic and contemporary texts alike. The theme extends beyond the literary realm and is prominent in several acclaimed American films, such as The Godfather and Titanic. While such works illustrate death’s pervasiveness in American literature and film, audiences do not treat all deaths in the same way. Audiences’ reactions to suicide and homicide, for example, are largely influenced by the gender of the character that is inflicting the suicide or murder. We typically glorify male suicides and homicides as heroic and sacrificial acts, in which the protagonist gives up his life, or takes someone else’s, for some greater cause. However, when women in major American literature and films commit suicide or murder, the greater cause behind their actions (i.e., social protest) is often more latent and abstract. As a result, audiences tend to view women’s deaths as less heroic and some audiences even read women’s suicides and homicides as acts of submission and defeat. Analyzing Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I will examine why women’s suicides and homicides are received in such polarized ways, examine the effects of portraying female death ambiguously, and consider the challenges and responsibilities that the women’s deaths pose to readers and audiences.