Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Angela Vietto

Thesis Committee Member

Parley Ann Boswell

Thesis Committee Member

Stephen Swords


This thesis focuses on the importance of money and the representations of its various physical manifestations (such as coin, paper money) in American fiction of the 1790s. My project traces the transition from the colonies' financial dependency on Britain to their independency, relating to the monetary union created after the passage of the constitution. I argue that this shift from financial dependency to independency influences books such as Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson, Kelroy by Rebecca Rush, Ormond or the Secret Witness and Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown. My project highlights, on the one hand, the importance of such a transition as it demonstrated a form of independence from the Crown; yet, on the other hand, this independence created issues among the colonists particularly as periodic financial crises or shortages of circulating money led to great uncertainty. These uncertainties emerge in the fiction of the day, especially in anxiety over the monetary union and paper currency. The transition toward a monetary union created social and commercial problems for merchants, businessmen, and families. Within this system, money seemingly becomes a traumatic object that deceives, seduces, and betrays people. Characters in the novels perceive money as treacherous, tricking people into believing in its arbitrary, imaginary, and socially constructed power. Money is anthropomorphized insofar as it seems to have intentions. Building on thing theory, I consider paper money a hyperobject, imbued with an apparent agency. In my thesis, I explore the implications of this widespread reaction to this strange power of paper currency. In this regard, paper money's hyperobjectivity is revealed by examining the notion of commodification, closely exploring instantaneous changes that occur in the novels in relationship to economic changes, and money's ephemerality.