Marlo Edwards

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susie O'Brien




In this dissertation I analyse the increasingly popular figure of the gun wielding woman in written and visual popular texts from the late nineteenth century to the present. My methodology is primarily indebted to gender theory, and melds the attention to form and narrative characteristic of literary analysis with the ideological critique that is a hallmark of cultural studies. What distinguishes my project from previous scholarship on female "action heroes" is my interest in the broad historical and cultural themes of genre, as well as my particular and sustained attention to the gun.

Much of the critical attention paid to the female action hero is concerned exclusively with her challenge to traditional binary understandings of gender and sexuality. As a part of this type of gender-focused reading, the gun, when it is discussed at all, tends to be read simply as a "phallic" object. While I do not dispute the phallic symbolism of the gun, I argue in this dissertation that to read the gun only or purely in this way is to both unproblematically reproduce essential gender categories and also to ignore the complex material and mythological history of the weapon. I trace this history and symbolism through an analysis of the woman with a gun in three genres: westerns, crime narratives, and science fiction. Along with considering how the woman with a gun challenges gender conventions and engages with generic themes, my analysis of the figure addresses the crucial question of how she reworks and/or revitalises liberal myths of heroic agency.

McMaster University Library

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