Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




David Kress

Second Committee Member

Carla Billitteri

Third Committee Member

T. Jeffrey Evans


What does it take for an American work of fiction to be considered "literature"? What characterizes a "literary" classic from an otherwise non-artistic piece of writing? Using Paul Lauter's Canons and Contexts as this project's primary source, this study argues that the answer is never completely static. The organization of the following chapters correlates to the three cultural influences Lauter argues narrowed the 20th century American canon and its standards for literature. Those influences are: 1.) the rise of the importance of the literary critic, 2.) the pursuit of masterpieces for canonization, and finally 3.) the conventions of historical frameworks. Occasionally referencing Joseph Csicsila's Canons By Consensus as an alternate primary source, this project examines the effects of Lauter's three defined influences upon two novels from 1930, an era of major criticism shifts. Through analyzing the changing critical receptions of William Faulkner's canonical As I Lay Dying and Edna Ferber's forgotten novel So Big, this project hopes to use these two works as case studies revealing the processes behind past fiction canonization, perhaps creating a clearer understanding of what motives shape canon formation today, and will continue to shape it in the future.