Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Barrett Watten


The essay analyzes Sinclair Lewis short fiction in If I Were Boss, U.S.A. by John Dos Passos, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, and Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. The primary literature is juxtaposed with a study of visual texts and historic research with a locational and thematic basis in Detroit. Ford Times and early automobile advertisements, Diego Rivera's mural Detroit Industry, photographs of the Sojourner Truth housing project riots, and the accounts of gay union workers comprise a framework for each of the central texts. Detroit aesthetic is gritty, realist, and shaped by and in the defiance of the organizational logic of the Ford Motor Company. This aesthetic is observable in the following ways: 1) Form-- publishing format is shaped by commercial concerns that sometimes determined the content and distribution methods of the work. Some texts are self-reflexive about their own consumption. The narratives are of each are crafted in distinct components that often resist the temptation to be read as working together like a well-oiled machine. 2) Subject--labor, production, consumption, and advertising are all recurring motifs the authors use figuratively and literally. 3) Language--the wording and punctuation represent the fast-paced modern dialect; the assemblage of new signifiers do not line up with the objects they traditionally signified in. 4) Gender, sexuality, and reproduction--control and order rein in desire and sexuality. Women in the workforce cause traditional gender codes to be redesigned, resulting in fear of the loss of efficiency. Masculine identity is as equally shaped by capitalism as women's roles are. Production and consumption are tied to sexual reproduction in different ways in each text.