Undergraduate Honors Theses


Fresh Air

Thesis Defended

Fall 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Marcia Douglas

Second Advisor

Noah Eli Gordon

Third Advisor

Lee Chambers


In this “Subterranean fiction” novella, a young woman named Ena Henders is faced with taking over the leadership of her underground civilization early, due to the unexpected death of her father. She is forced to take drastic measures to save her people when their subterranean city begins to collapse. She faces vocal opponents within her community who underestimate her and how dangerous the Underground can get. There is something mysterious, though, that lurks in her city and threatens to destroy them all, which Ena has yet to discover.

This project was inspired by my previous goal to spend a full semester writing “female-focused fantasy,” which resulted in two short stories, and one novel-in-progress on the theme. This piece continues that exploration of women in positions of power in alternate-universes. The motivation for this theme is part escapism, because it is currently easier to envision women in places of power within different universes that have different centers of morality than it is in the world as it is. It is also motivated by optimism, though. Following the advice of author Toni Morrison, who stated that “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it,”[1] I have done just that. There is a lack of female-led fantasy in the popular media, and this story’s themes address that. While there are some male authors in the genre who write female protagonists in positions of power, there is a lack of female authors or female-led fantasy novels (with a few exceptions). This novella attempts to address this gap in American popular media.

This piece is written for a young-adult, primarily female, audience. It addresses issues of insecurity, family conflicts, and the universal intricacies that young adults face when coming of age within a fantastic, yet grounded, universe in which the heroine has claws and other unusual physical attributes. This story also specifically addresses the over-sexualization of young female characters in novels by attributing physical characteristics of utility instead of aestheticism to its characters of all genders. It is unfortunately rare to see women described by what they do with their bodies, and not by what those bodies look like, isolated from the character’s feelings or abilities. This story seeks to correct that trend as much as is possible.

Finally, although romance is not the focus of this story, the normalization of non-heterosexual relationships is attempted through subtle romantic attachments that Ena forms throughout the novella, which, although not developed by the story’s stopping point, percolate in the background behind the action. They allow the character to develop as an adult in a subtle way, alongside the external action.

This story deals with feminist themes while exploring the genre that is “Subterranean fiction” in a fantasy setting. Ultimately, despite the other-worldly setting, the story remains grounded in family and individual responsibility.

[1] https://goo.gl/WyhHtF- Toni Morrison and Junot Díaz

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