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Dangerous Crossings : Class Passing, Identity Intersectionality, and Consumer Culture in U.S. Crime Fiction and Film, 1940-1960


In "Dangerous Crossings : Class Passing, Identity Intersectionality, and Consumer Culture in U.S. Crime Fiction and Film, 1940-1960," I argue that a close analysis of class masquerade illuminates the intersectional nature of identity and the criminalization of socially mobile individuals in American literature and popular culture. The midcentury American crime narrative is structured by the stubborn prevalence of a figure I call the class passer, that is, a character who performs a false class identity in order to be socially mobile and to conceal their class origins. This "dangerous crossing" of class lines is a catalyst that also destabilizes any notion of gender, race, and sexuality as fixed categories. My focus serves as a critical lens for crime fiction's engagement with consumer capitalism, as well as for the study of class, and more broadly of identity itself as a fluid, yet rigid, concept in midcentury discourse. Chapter One, "The Femme Fatale on the Home Front in Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and Vera Caspary's Laura (1942)," pairs Chandler and Caspary's noir novels to illustrate the crucial role of class in the femme fatale's danger to capitalist patriarchy. In Chapter Two, "For Richer, For Poorer: Class-Passing Mothers and Domestic Noir in Vera Caspary's Bedelia (1945), Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man (1948), and No Man of Her Own (1950), " I compare Caspary and Woolrich's stories of pregnant women who are criminal class passers, as well as the latter novel's 1950 film adaptation. In Chapter Three, "The Homme Fatal Strikes Again: Male Class Passers in Dorothy Hughes's In a Lonely Place (1947) and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)," I argue that female authors revise conventions of the crime genre to frame the encroachment of consumer culture and postmodern notions of identity as threats gendered as masculine rather than feminine. Chapter Four, "Economically Queer: Class and Gender Passing as Anti-Racist Resistance in Chester Himes's All Shot Up (1960)," uses queer of color critique to examine how passing in Himes's series of Harlem crime novels expose fixed identities and white supremacy as confidence games. Ultimately, my project demonstrates the importance of popular genre in the broader study of U.S. literature and culture, specifically in terms of class, intersectionality, and postmodern identities

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