Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Melissa Ames

Thesis Committee Member

Lania Knight

Thesis Committee Member

Christopher M. Wixson


Young Adult Literature has historically been read as a genre that encourages singular identity formation. Scholars have argued that this literature inspires young adult readers to find their true identity by showcasing characters in the process of identity construction. However, when read through the lens of performance theory - a vast field that encompasses many disciplines such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, literature and theatre - it becomes evident that YAL actually encourages the formation of multiple roles and identities. This genre features characters trying on new roles, casting assigned roles aside, and assuming new identities to best suit their settings. As such, this project focused on identity formation as performance in YAL dystopian literature and the impact this has on the subgenre, real young adults, and its part in the current crossover trend.

YAL is currently aggressively performative, but it has always been thus. In order to examine this trait this project used texts that have been written over the past 30 years such as: The Giver, The House of the Scorpion, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, and Little Brother. It is apparent in all of these dystopian tests that multiple identity performance is an inherent trait of the genre - and always has been. Many YAL text feature characters in the throes of identity formation who assume different roles in order to gain control of their strictly controlled environments. This notion is particularly important for adolescents to recognize because once these young people realize that identity is a performance, performance that allows adolescents to assume power in their lives, they can become comfortable in their own real settings. Young adults are then able to transition into the many roles that await them in the adult world more effectively. This project draws upon theories written by performance theorists such as: Bertolt Brecht, Erving Goffman, Richard Schechner (and others) and also applies current scholarly readings to these YAL dystopian texts in order to argue that YAL does and has always encouraged the formation of multiple identities and roles.