College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in English (MA)


Virginia Dow


The Dollmaker, Harriette Arnow, Appalachian Literature, Appalachian Culture, Migration, New Historicism


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


The migration of Gertie Nevels in Arnow’s The Dollmaker from Appalachian Kentucky to Detroit examines the tense relationship between two vastly different cultures forced together in the city. Gertie’s identity as a strong, capable Appalachian woman used to the agrarian lifestyle of 1940s Kentucky struggles to find roots in the mechanized world of Detroit. In the city, Gertie faces fervent rejection of her Appalachian culture. She finds that Detroit society encourages her to adapt to the cultural norms of the city and put away her Appalachian practices. However, Gertie’s ability to adapt to the social demands of the city does not mean that she also denounces her own heritage. Using New Historicism and Feminist Theory to examine Gertie’s character and her Appalachian identity reveals three ways that she maintains her own culture. Through her memories of life in the mountains, strong community ties with the women in the Merry Hill housing project, and her ardent faith in a “living Christ” Gertie remains Appalachian despite the cultural expectations of the city.