Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



A definition of the term "historical novel" remains controversial because the criteria vary among critics. Ernest E. Leisy , in The American Historical Novel, defines a historical novel as "a novel the action of which is laid in an earlier time ... it must be a readily identifiable past time" (4). Harry B. Henderson III, in Versions of the Past, suggests that a historical novel is set "in the 'unexperienced' past in the world that existed before the author was born" (xvi). One recent American historical novelist is E. L. Doctorow, author of The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, and World's Fair. Doctorow's main concern is American history . From the West, the early twentieth century, to the period between and after the world wars, the time settings for his novels are various. Not only does he focus on American history and culture, he also challenges the problems involved in historical writing. In "False Document, " an essay he published in 1977, Doctorow points out the original power of the novel, which was considered to have the same force as historical facts in the past. He also challenges what history tells us as facts, noting that historical facts are also groups of images that carry historians' judgments and opinions. Thus, Doctorow maintains the need of a new type of historical fiction by declaring that "there is no fiction and nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction: There is only narrative" (161). In this thesis, I will argue that Doctorow challenges the conventional concept of history through his use of fictional outsiders. In his novels, many of the characters are outsiders in American society. Some are so by choice, but more are forced to be outsiders because of their social and economic status, gender, race, and politics. By focusing on outsiders, Doctorow tries to show the hidden aspects of American history, which may have been overlooked and neglected by the insiders, those who have written the histories. This thesis will be divided into four chapters beginning with Doctorow's point of view about history, fiction, and outsiders. I will then develop a chapter about Doctorow's life and works, which will show the influence of his family background and his career on his novels. In the following chapters, applying new historicism and cultural studies, I will focus on three of Doctorow's books, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, and Billy Bathgate. I will examine the different types of the outsiders in each novel and also demonstrate how differently these outsiders see the world

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Doctorow, E. L., 1931-2015 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Outsiders in literature.
Historical fiction, American.
History in literature.
Noncitizens in literature.
Strangers in literature.


South Dakota State University



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