Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Jeffrey Scraba

Committee Member

Lorinda Cohoon

Committee Member

Donal Harris

Committee Member

Marina Levina


The female witch has historically been used in popular American culture as a metaphor for female resistance to and disruption of the patriarchy. This metaphor has long since transformed from portraying these witches as evil and deserving of punishment to beautiful, trendy teens and young adults who use their magic for good to fight against demons and examples of this transformation can be found across popular television shows, movies, and books. Many popular genres, including much of young adult literature, are often overlooked or ignored by the academy and therefore the complex signification of the witch as a focus for interpreting and understanding contemporary girlhood and feminism is missed. This project argues that young adult literature purposefully uses the figure of the witch to model a feminist agency for its adolescent readers. This dissertation studies contemporary iterations of the teenage girl witch and argues that they offer adolescent readers significant portrayals of feminisms and (de)constructions of gender roles with which they can identify and through which they can develop their own feminist positions and critiques of patriarchal injustices. Beyond the witch’s magic showing adolescent readers ways for them to use their own power of voice and collective activism, the witch’s monstrosity represents a position of “Other” that allows readers to identify with them. Adolescence is often depicted as a liminal space between childhood and adulthood which mirrors the liminal space the teen witches occupy between monster and human. Thus, adolescent readers can identify with the emotions and challenges the witches face despite their magical differences. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that the representation of the witch in contemporary young adult literature reflects and influences constructs of gender and empowers adolescent female readers through the possibilities for expanded cultural understanding and critique offered by character identification. Each chapter studies two to three young adult novels to explore how the representation of the witches demonstrates empowerment and resistance: chapter one looks at how the representation of malevolent mothers challenges idealized, white motherhood; chapter two depicts witches using collective activism with their coven mates to dismantle systemic villains; chapter three analyzes how land ownership is gendered and nature is controlled in similar ways to women and witches; chapter four takes a pedagogical approach to show how witches can be used in the classroom to navigate lessons and discussions of grief.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open Access