Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. Jennifer Mitchell
Dr. Claire Bracken
adolescent fiction, young adult fiction, high fantasy, willful subjects, willfulness, adolescent girls
The psychological theory of narrative identity posits that we create our identities based on a narrative life-story, and that adolescence is a pivotal moment in this process. Literature is one of the most familiar examples of narrative, so what, then, does the literature adolescents read teach them about identity as they construct their own narrative identities? What kinds of characters are portrayed and what can we learn about the adolescents influenced by those characters? This thesis is interested in these questions specifically as they relate to contemporary adolescent girls, who often grow up reading young adult (YA) high fantasy novels written by women, about women, and for women. Using Sara Ahmed’s theory of the willful subject, this thesis theorizes the protagonists depicted in YA high fantasy novels as willful heroines who are constructed in resistance to oppressive, patriarchal societies which seek to control them. Through developing methods of willfulness specific to their individual, intersectional identities, these heroines are able to take their fates into their own hands and begin to imagine alternatives to the hierarchical systems in which they are trapped. The willful techniques they cultivate to defy their respective worlds are influenced by their gender, race, sexuality, class, and experience with imperialism. However, in order to be successful in imagining and eventually building a better world, a willful heroine must be supported by a community of fellow willful subjects. By analyzing five recent YA high fantasy novels––Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (2012), Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince (2018), Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes (2015), Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (2018), and Marie Rutkoski’s The Midnight Lie (2020)––this thesis reveals how intersubjective and intersectional willfulness is fundamental to any female identity that wants to not only survive but overcome a patriarchal society. As it concludes, this thesis envisions a new generation of women raised on YA high fantasy novels who build willful communities in order to transform the world around them.
Delehaunty, Shea, "Singular yet Shared: Willful Heroines and their Willful Communities in Young Adult Fantasy" (2021). Honors Theses. 2410.