Representations of youth and ageing in American culture, 1950 - present Representations of youth and ageing in American culture, 1950 - present

Dr Rachael McLennan

Anne Frank

I explore representations of youth and ageing in fictional and autobiographical narratives about and by girls and women. I am interested in stories told by and about female experience because of what they tell us about constructions of gender in America, and because they reveal how those constructions may be endorsed or resisted.  

Research Overview

I have recently published a monograph, In Different Rooms: Representations of Anne Frank in American Literature (Routledge, 2017). In American literature, Frank is often invoked, if problematically, as a means of encouraging readers to think widely about persecution, genocide, and victimisation; often in relation to gender, ethnicity, and race. I discuss how Frank’s gender and age have worked to inform her symbolisation as a universal symbol of goodness, and have functioned to make it easy for some critics to dismiss the value (literary, political, or ethical) of her Diary. I show how some of the most compelling literary representations of Frank challenge these ideas, particularly by cautioning against too-easy identification with Frank.

My research shows how literary representations of Anne Frank in America over the past 50 years reflect the continued dominance of the American dramatic adaptations of Frank’s Diary in the 1950s. It argues that authors feel compelled to engage with the problematic elements of these adaptations and their iconic power. At the same time, though, literary representations of Frank are associated with the adaptations; critics often assume that these texts unquestioningly perpetuate the problems with the adaptations. This is not true. I examine how American authors represent Frank in order to negotiate difficult questions relating to representation of the Holocaust in America, and in order to consider gender, coming of age, and forms of inequality in American culture in various historical moments; and of course, to consider the ways Frank herself is represented in America. 

What Next

I’m currently writing an article about the role of autobiography in the HBO series Girls. I’m also keen to write about ageing in contemporary American culture, particularly in women’s writing, for example in novels by Jennifer Egan and Elizabeth Strout, but also in film (Boyhood, Wes Anderson…).  

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