Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Renk, Kathleen J., 1952-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


American literature


This dissertation argues that contemporary American literature has a tendency to represent the problems of American life in a manner that mystifies the operation of the global economy and thus perpetuates the American exceptionalist disavowal of US imperialism. I look at a specific set of "first-world problems" described by cultural theorists and depicted within American fiction from 1985 to the present, describing the representation of each problem in multiple texts to emphasize the general trend. These novels focus on first-world experiences and perspectives in isolation from the rest of the world, they decontextualize problems within the US from the neocolonial practices from which they are born, and they contribute to a longstanding narrative of the US as the victim of globalization by focusing on how the American characters' material privilege negatively impacts them. Each chapter focuses on one first-world problem, examining how each operates within the chosen texts and how in each case the treatment of that particular problem engages the effects of globalization and American economic privilege while divorcing those effects from the operation of the global economy. These chapters discuss, in order, spatial organization, mobility, hyperreality, consumerism, and a supposed literary "retreat" into the domestic sphere. The corpus includes Don DeLillo's White Noise and Cosmopolis, Paul Auster's Sunset Park, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. This project extends Edward W. Said's Culture and Imperialism and its exploration of colonial discourse in British cultural works to consider US imperialism and acknowledge American neocolonial discourse as a separate form of cultural justification for empire rooted in the logic of American exceptionalism. It is the first concerted attempt to articulate neocolonial discourse as a discrete and definite discursive field. This work seeks to establish a new subfield of postcolonial studies that addresses neocolonialism as an ongoing economic practice rather than a cultural legacy of earlier colonial exploitation, to invite greater attention to America as an imperial power, and to begin the task awaiting both postcolonial and American literary criticism of exploring the role of American cultural works in voicing neocolonial discourse.


Advisors: Kathleen Renk.||Committee members: Timothy Ryan; Mark Van Wienen.||Includes bibliographical references.


iv, 300 pages




Northern Illinois University

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