Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Balcerzak, Scott

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


This dissertation explored how characters in romantic comedies negotiate and transgress class boundaries as the films conform to and challenge genre and social expectations, focusing primarily through a feminist lens. Specifically, it addresses the different ways the films negotiate ideas about American identity and economic systems, simultaneously trying to acknowledge problematic elements while upholding social and nationalistic ideals. Feminism has a complicated relationship with Hollywood romantic comedies. While the genre often focuses on issues of interest to women and forefronts female characters and their professional and personal experiences, the denouement generally reinforces heteronormative monogamous relationships above others and the traditional values of the patriarchy. The sorts of class transgressions found in these films are particularly American as they reflect the belief that one's birth need not limit their possibilities or potential and that upward mobility is not only possible but fundamental to the beliefs of the nation.This exploration focuses on Hollywood films from the early 1930s—which scholars generally identify as the beginning of the modern romantic comedy genre—through the early 2000s. It is organized in periods between the waves of feminism, as they represent perspectives not directly influenced by the gender politics inevitably connected with the waves, although they can never be fully divorced from the influence of preceding movements. These eras exist within and, sometimes, transcend historical moments of resettling class lines: the interwar, postwar, and postmillennial eras. Specifically, this dissertation explores the Great Depression and Thirty Day Princess (1934); postwar containment culture and Roman Holiday (1953), The Swan (1956), and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957); turn-of-the-millennium postfeminism and Kate and Leopold (2001); and intersectional feminism and Something New (2006). The conclusion addresses recent changes in the romantic comedy genre relative to the #metoo and #timesup movements and the 2016 presidential election and how other factors, such as the popularity of streaming services, further complicate those changes.


215 pages




Northern Illinois University

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