Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Canavan, Gerard

Second Advisor

Hathaway, Heather

Third Advisor

Flack, Leah


This dissertation traces the shared concerns of globalism, cosmopolitanism, humanism, and decolonization through a selection of 21st century Anglophone Literature while I explore what each says about a contested contemporary literary era. I analyze four novels – Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost (2000), David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010), and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013) – and consider how they wrestle, implicitly and explicitly, with the history of the 21st century and its effect on formal innovation and literary periodization. To do so, I look at humanism, cosmopolitanism, and decolonization as they relate to the shifting literary field increasingly fond of “universal projects” that span time, space, and history. I analyze the four novels as representations of how individuals might live at multiple levels (global, international, family, and interspecies) in ways befitting the increasing focus on humanist and cosmopolitan communities. The anxieties that animate both questions of periodization and cultural and political reform are made structural by each novel and, by extension, is a unique feature of 21st century fiction. Ultimately, I contend that what separates these novels from previous eras, particularly postmodernism, is their implication of readers and their worlds within the text. Furthermore, all four novels fail, I suggest, but within that failure they provide a means of engagement and revision that can be carried forward. In being willing to fail in visions of ethical, humanist, cosmopolitan worlds, the novels highlight limitations of those very concepts and implicate readers within their calls for action.

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