In her 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf famously asserts that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (4). This concept places an immediate importance on the role of the Modernist female subject as an artist and as an architect, constructing the places and spaces that she exists within. With Woolf's argument as its point of departure, this thesis investigates the theme of female space in two Modernist texts: Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963). The respective protagonists of Quicksand and The Bell Jar, Helga Crane and Esther Greenwood, each undertake journeys to obtain spaces that are purely their own. However, this thesis positions each space that Helga and Esther occupy as both male-constructed and male-dominated in order to address the inherent gendering of space and its impact on the development of feminine identities. This thesis focuses specifically on the roles of the mother, the muse, and the female mentor, tracking the spaces in which Helga and Esther begin to adhere to these roles. Expanding on Lauren Berlant's theory of cruel optimism, this thesis will use the term "cruel femininity" to support its intervening claim that the respective relationships that Helga and Esther each have with their own feminine identities begin to turn cruel as they internalize the male-dominated spatial structures surrounding them. Overall, this thesis argues that there is no space in existence where Helga and Esther can realize their full potential as human beings, as long as the spatial structures within their communities continue to be controlled by hegemonic, patriarchal beliefs.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Mathes, Carmen Faye


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program

English Literature


Orlando (Main) Campus



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date