In Search of White Manhood: The Construction and Failures of U.S. National Identity in Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams Stories

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English



Chief Instructor

James Elliott

Second Reader

Esther Jones

Third Reader

Katja Sarkowsky


American literature, Gender studies


In my thesis, I explore the relationship of two major aspects of U.S. national identity, Whiteness and masculinity, and how they shape the life of Hemingway's Nick Adams. Using Jacques Derrida's concept of differance and Judith Butler's theory of performativity as a framework, I analyze how both Whiteness and masculinity are performed and how these performances are judged by other characters. Throughout the stories, we witness the ways in which the codes of hegemonic White manhood are modeled or enacted, apparent in open or subtle misogyny, racism, and male competition. However, the codes prove problematic or impossible to enact for a variety of reasons, particularly in Nick's encounters with racialized 'Others'. I argue that these stories, because they are embedded in and take up specific historical contexts, demonstrate the failures of the dream of a unifying American national identity based on a construct that requires constant competition and Othering---exposing the identity construct, ironically, as fragile, divisive and undemocratic.