Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2022

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Monika Gehlawat

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Ery Shin

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Shane Wood

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Abstract

Teju Cole’s Open City (2011) is an exemplar work of contemporary fiction. For its complex representation of subjectivity, hypnotic narrative tone, and global political scope, the novel has been praised by readers and critics alike. Julius, the text’s first-person narrator, guides us along seemingly innocent wanderings throughout New York City, ruminating on history, art, and politics while presenting himself as the enlightened, cosmopolitan ideal. However, the shocking penultimate revelation that Julius raped a young woman from his past alters our encounter with the text and its narrator. We come to realize that this meandering novel is, in reality, a carefully curated attempt to repress a violent past. Many scholars, and Teju Cole himself, have explored the benefits of rereading Open City with the revelation of Julius’s rape in mind, noting the various hidden signs that become more obvious indicators of his problematic character. However, no critic has paid adequate attention to Julius’s sexuality. By adopting a psychoanalytic lens invested in Julius’s memories, dreams, familial dynamics, and psychic aversions, this project uncovers a complex network of signs indicating that Julius is, in fact, a queer character. Once identified as queer, I argue that the intense intersections of Julius’s emerging sexuality, uncomfortable family dynamics, and learned toxically masculine traits from military school converge to produce his violent actions and the subsequent repression of his victim intertwined with more subtle aversions to queerness, sexuality, and intersubjectivity.

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