New York City: «Gilt Cage» or «Promised Land»?

Representations of Urban Space in Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska

by Irene Billeter Sauter (Author)
©2011 Thesis 299 Pages


New York City plays a significant, albeit previously neglected, role in the urban narratives of Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska at a time when the city was as new and central to the American experience as had been the Western frontier. New York City was the epicenter of the late 19th and early 20th century world at large; its constantly shifting landscape caused by urbanization, industrialization, women’s emancipation, and immigration found its representation in the extremes of the urban spectrum on Fifth Avenue and the Lower East Side. Narrating the domestic sphere from widely diverging vantage points, native Edith Wharton and immigrant Anzia Yezierska present a polarized city where domesticity is always a primal and existential concern. By analyzing exterior and interior city representations in Wharton’s and Yezierska’s New York literature, the author shows how urban space greatly affects, influences and alters questions of identity, assimilation, acculturation, and alienation in protagonists who cannot escape their respective settings. Edith Wharton’s «millionaire» heroines are framed by «conspicuous consumption» in the gilt interiors of their New York City while Anzia Yezierska’s «immigrant» protagonists hunger for a «Promised Land» of knowledge and learning in the perpetually changing urban landscape.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2011 (August)
English and American Cultural and Regional Studie 20th Century American Literature Cultural Research: Art and Literature Judaica English and American Cultural and Regional Studies
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2011. 299 pp. num. ill.

Biographical notes

Irene Billeter Sauter (Author)

Irene Billeter Sauter received her PhD in American Literature from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and currently teaches American Literature at the Volkshochschule Zurich. Abandoning academia after her MA, she moved to Manhattan in 1994 and through blizzards, blackouts, and terrorist attacks became an unrepentant New Yorker. Working as a free-lance translator, she wrote her dissertation and moved to Zurich in 2006.


Title: New York City: «Gilt Cage» or «Promised Land»?