Date of Award

5-2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts

Department

English

Program

Creative Writing

First Advisor/Chairperson

Caroline Zoe Krzakowski

Abstract

In recent years, mermaids have become a cultural zeitgeist. Judging by American women’s ongoing and increasing interest in watching, writing about, and performing as mermaids, many women feel empowered by the mermaid’s hybrid body. Yet there are darker depths to the mermaid myth that continue to be ignored in contemporary mermaid entertainment. In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, Disney’s animated film, and almost every other Western mermaid myth, the mermaid has been constrained, silenced, and victimized, isolated from her female lineage and genuine female relationships for centuries. Like the mermaid, the female body in the American entertainment industry has been exposed, confined, and advertised as a spectacle, an instrument of beauty, a natural resource, and a home for male fantasies. Swimming film stars Annette Kellermann and Esther Williams, the Legendary Weeki Wachee mermaids, and my grandmother were objectified and silenced by men and by their own internalized patriarchal codes. Weaving film history, personal contemplation, and popular mermaid stories into fragmented lyric essays and poems, Only Underwater Can We Breathe: The Book of Mermaid Contemplations articulates the narratives of femininity, memory, and the female body in an attempt to relocate the mermaid figure in women’s voices instead of male fantasies. By infusing the traditional narrative with intergenerational women’s stories, cycles, and bodies, I hope to give the mermaid what has only rarely been offered to her in American popular culture—a female voice.

Access Type

Open Access

Justification for Restricting Access

I intend to publish an expanded version of this thesis within the next few years, thus I would like to set an embargo in order to protect my work until then.

Available for download on Tuesday, March 30, 2027

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