Rugged Domesticity: Frontier Mythology in Post-Armageddon Science Fiction by Women

TitleRugged Domesticity: Frontier Mythology in Post-Armageddon Science Fiction by Women
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsNewell, D
JournalScience Fiction Studies
ISBN Number0091-7729
Keywords1900-1999, 1950-1964, American literature, fantasy, frontier, History, Literary criticism, LITERATURE, Mythology, novel, nuclear disaster, Science fiction &amp, science fiction novel, Women, women novelists, Writers

In the four science fiction novels explored here, the post-atomic frontier is represented as a modern version of American civilization's ongoing cyclical encounter with savagery, as identified by Rickard Slotkin. Although normalcy assumed critical importance as a means by which postwar American culture could regenerate from its encounter with savagery after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the idealization of normalcy conflicted with other ideologies long associated with frontier mythology, including those of individualism and progress. Women science fiction writers worked through these tensions in their novels about post-Armageddon futures in imaginative ways that belie the reputation of the 1950s as a period of conformity in women's literary and social history. Judith Merril's narrative of the nuclear frontier, Shadow on the Hearth (1950), represents women in a variety of interesting ways at the same time as it presents the domestic sphere conventionally, as the primary site for the production of normalcy. Phyllis Gotleib's Sunburst (1964) is a fantasy of ideological regeneration whereby nuclear disaster produces humans who are "super" and "normal" at the same time. On the other hand, Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow (1955) and C.L. Moore's Doomsday Morning (1957) depict normalcy itself as a primitive state that must be overcome in order for American society to progress-but at the expense of their female characters. We argue that the works of these speculative women, while understandably not entirely free of the ideological constraints of 1950s normalcy, test these constraints in innovative ways and are rich with intelligent and critical analyses of the relationship between savagery and civilization-the very basis upon which American domestic ideology depends.