Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Kurt Bullock

Second Advisor

Sherry Johnson

Third Advisor

Robert Franciosi

Academic Year



Once the industrial heavy-weight of the twentieth century, the city of Detroit is now plagued by a narrative of decay that is made obvious by its abandoned and neglected buildings and neighborhoods. In sensational reporting about Detroit’s misfortunes, a reductive brush is frequently applied to paint the city into a “before” and “after” picture of “success” and “failure,” fetishizing its decay while often ignoring the countless ways that socio-economic forces contributed to its decline. Addressing the unresolved wounds of class discrimination and structural racism, authors Angela Flournoy and Michael Zadoorian have provided a literary space in which fictional Detroiters reckon with an often inconvenient and painful past. In doing so, the authors suggest that an integral component of the city’s survival is through active dialogue with the past. This thesis provides an engagement with that history, first by reviewing the institutional use of the American Dream as tool of hegemonic formation in Detroit’s factories, followed by a discussion of the novel The Turner House (2016) as a textual example of the inadequacies and legacy of such a model, and concluding with a reassertion of identity as provided by the short story “Spelunkers” (2009). It is only by reckoning with these specters of history that the past becomes, as Flournoy and Zadoorian suggest, not a death sentence, but a living resource for imagining Detroit’s future.