Thesis Title

Cornucopia: Food as Signifier in Literature For the Young

Date of Graduation

Summer 2000


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Linda Benson

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Although the mention of food in literature for the young might at first appear innocuous, the numerous references to eating, food, and its preparation demand explication. The following explores the use of food as a signifier of power and growth, a method of socialization, and a social construct in literature for the young. British and American fantasy, including folk and fairy tales as well as classic and contemporary fantasy, provide the foundation for this study. Feminist criticism allows for an examination of gender roles and stereotypes and reveals that as a rule, authors' use of food perpetuates traditional gender roles by placing women in the context of the kitchen as those who offer nourishment and deny themselves when necessary. Linguistic applications demonstrate how authors use food to describe, define, situate, and construct their characters. In its most general terms, food provides metaphors and descriptions for any number of characters, both male and female. More specifically, dining and food constitute two of the many avenues of socialization and moral instruction. Additionally, characters' attitudes toward food represent a measure of their growth, autonomy, self-control, and status. Numerous contradictions arise, however, in that food and eating, arguably the most crucial and enjoyable aspects of survival, become tools to modify behavior, indicators of power, and devices that too often silence the women who prepare the food, denying them the opportunity to effectively speak and openly influence others.


© Susan Louise Stewart