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The Physicality of Deviance in the Nancy Drew Mystery Series


Racial and ethnic minorities almost exclusively play the role of “Other” in the Nancy Drew stories, starring as villains or relegated to roles as menial laborers. To showcase Nancy’s racial superiority, Keene emphasizes Nancy’s freedom by juxtaposing it against characters that have less than full freedom or personhood. In the Nancy Drew stories, immigrants or individuals of foreign descent are portrayed as dangerous, suspicious, untrustworthy, uneducated, and criminal. Language often acts as an indicator of a character’s status as white or non-white. Nash notes, “Keene uses dialogue to signal Otherness: non-whites and white ethnics usually speak in broad dialects, while Anglo villains reveal a contemptible lower-class status through their poor grammar.” The descriptions of villains reflect a technique used in some filmmaking, where the heroes and heroines are always attractive and the villain is identifiable by his or her ugliness or deformity. This pattern seems particularly true for female characters, whose outward appearances are a clear depiction of their inner qualities. Aside from Nancy and her close friends, women in the series are relegated to menial work and are often poor, unattractive, and racialized.

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