Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

P. Jane Hafen

Number of Pages



This dissertation explores how a tribal construct of gender relations---gender complementarity---functions in the works of Zitkala-Sa (Yankton Sioux), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe), and Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene). Gender complementarity, or balanced reciprocity, acknowledges that the worlds of men and women are different but not generally perceived as hierarchical. If gender roles are not seen as unequal but simply different, the resulting political relationships do not necessarily result in power struggles for equality. Examining the political ramifications of gender complementarity for women in Native American literature is approached through the historical and cultural contexts of each specific tribe. Often, current literary theories alone do not account for these factors that must be considered. Feminist theory, for instance, does not always provide a broad enough lens through which critics can view Native American literature because it often focuses on political inequality between genders. Ignoring the broader cultural context of specific tribes frequently renders the feminist view of the literature incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate. The research focuses primarily on evidence that proves how the female characters are empowered by the very nature of their tribal social structure of gender complementarity, which results in strong women who autonomously exercise their intellectual sovereignty. The female characters in the works of Zitkala-Sa, Silko, Erdrich, and Alexie resist colonialism's image of Indian women as inferior to men and show that they were and are powerful figures.


Alexie, Sherman; American; Complementarity; Erdrich, Louise; Gender; Gender Complementarity; Literature; Louise Erdrich; Leslie Marmon Silko; Native American; Political; Ramifications; Sherman Alexie; Silko, Leslie Marmon; Women; Women Characters; Zitkala-sa

Controlled Subject

American literature; Women's studies

File Format


File Size

7741.44 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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