Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Elisabeth Gruner


At the heart of what Roberta S. Trites titles ―adolescent literature‖ – works written both for and about young adults—is a question of agency (Disturbing 7). In Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature, Trites asserts that adolescent novels attempt to answer the question of young adults who wonder if they ―should or even can affect the world in which they live‖ (1). Trites‘ argument is based on the idea that the distinguishing characteristic of adolescent literature is its focus on ―the social forces‖ that shape, and often limit, young adults (3). In order for real-world and literary pre-teens to learn about their agency they must constantly challenge the ―power‖ that pervades their life in the form of socially constructed ideologies (3-5). My thesis is an application of this theory as it applies to four novels: Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Kaye Gibbons‘ Ellen Foster (1987), Sue Monk Kidd‘s The Secret Life of Bees (2001), and Pam Muñoz Ryan‘s Becoming Naomi León (2005). As ―novels of growth and development,‖ these works are categorized as ―Entwicklungsroman‖ (7-9). These novels are not considered bildungsroman, which would imply the protagonist has ―reached adulthood by the end of the narrative‖ (9-10). This difference is crucial, as it allows for a focus on the immediate, rather than long-term, results of challenging social forces. The shortened narrative time span of these novels gives the protagonist an opportunity to discern the impact of her actions – either affirming or undermining her agency.