Date of Award

12-2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Sandra J. Berkowitz

Second Committee Member

Kristin M. Langellier

Third Committee Member

Laura A. Lindenfeld

Abstract

This thesis explores the subjects of food, cookbooks and food writing as rhetoric and as subversions of the dominant domestic ideology of the 1940's. Two books written by Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (published as M. F. K. Fisher), How to Cook a Wolf and The Gastronomical Me, read using critical rhetoric and feminist perspectives reveal the use of food and eating in the creation and enactment of a feminist identity in World War II America. Fisher creates a recipe for a feminist identity in How to Cook a Wolf using a unique enactment of the eighteenth century manuscript cookbook format that contrasts with the modem cookbook genre. Placing Fisher against the dominant domestic ideology based in the turn of the century Domestic Science food reform movement and within the historical context of World War II rationing, positions the kitchen as a site for the creation of a feminist identity. Fisher's direct challenges to popular conceptions of menus for family meals; her use of foreign and ethnic foods; her questioning of war rhetoric and propaganda; and her use of humor, wit, and a conversational tone contribute to her subversion of popular enactments of domesticity. Her strategies of appropriation of masculine food preferences, direct confrontation, and sensitivity to the Other contribute to her feminist identity. The Gastronomical Me models this feminist identity beyond the kitchen into the public sphere. Using food and eating as the focus of her autobiographic memoir, Fisher's strategies of naming, blurring gender, and power facilitate this enactment. The use of critical rhetoric, vernacular discourse, and feminism in the critique of Fisher's discourse requires consideration of several issues including an historical contextualization of feminist identity and domestic ideology. A significant constraint in the use of Fisher as an Anglo American positioned within and outside of the dominant social ideology is the exposure of issues of class and privilege within the context of history. Critical rhetoric's call for self-reflexivity and the critic's position of privilege create a conflict in uncovering aspects of domination and freedom within the text and the criticism. This research expands our conception of feminist identities and uncovers domesticity as a site of subversion and power during a period when feminism was generally considered dormant. It further provides a more nuanced understanding of women in an era that is subject to stereotypical and ideological representations. Using Fisher as a subject is both an unconventional understanding of what constitutes a rhetorical text and challenges conventional representations of domesticity as exclusively restrictive forces in women's lives.

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