Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Hufbauer, Benjamin

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Bertacco, Simona

Committee Member

Bertacco, Simona

Committee Member

Chandler, Karen

Committee Member

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Howe, Winona

Author's Keywords

agency; autonomy; disney princesses; harry potter; hunger games


This dissertation analyzes the different ways in which female characters in children’s and young adult fiction can claim agency. Using adaptation theory, feminist theory, and theories of agency and autonomy, this project examines how portrayals of female protagonists have changed to accept a multiplicity of strong females, and why we need these different kinds of characters within our culture. Working with the definition of agency as the choices one makes and the subsequent actions she takes, this dissertation examines how female characters from paradigm shifting texts claim agency. Each chapter uses a specific feminist lens to explore literary texts and their film adaptations in order to demonstrate shifting configurations of female agency. Adaptation is important because it creates new meaning through the creation of an adjacent, but distinct text of its own. Therefore female protagonists can claim agency in new and different ways in the film depictions. Each of the four chapters is a specific case study with close readings of specific texts in order to explore the different ways in which women claim agency. Chapter one breaks the Disney princesses into four groups, and uses Simone de Beauvoir’s concepts of dutiful daughter and independent woman, in order to examine how the princess characters have changed and gained agency over time. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s idea of the “angel” versus the “monster” is used in chapter two to examine how fairy tale reboot films allow both the princess and the villainess to both be more complex characters who claim agency. The women of the Harry Potter series are the focus of chapter three, as the chapter explores the varied roles women play and how these women create a postfeminist community. Chapter four looks at Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series, and through a lens of ecofeminism, how she uses the land to her advantage both save her life and shame the government. The dissertation concludes with a brief look at other texts with more diverse characters, and how diversity needs to be another avenue of study in relation to female agency.