Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

W. Hal Knight

Committee Members

Ernest J. Branscomb, Nancy Dishner, Russell F. West


The purpose of this study was to describe how gender was portrayed and to determine how gender roles were depicted and defined in a selection of Modern and Postmodern American plays. This study was based on the symbolic interaction theory of gender that suggests that social roles are learned over time and are subject to constant reinforcement. The significance of this study was derived from the broad topic of gender because gender issues are relevant to a variety of fields and exploring the effects of gender in one field contributes to the understanding of gender in another field.

The plays in this study were Votes for Women, Robins; Trifles, Glaspell; Our Town, Wilder; Moon for the Misbegotten, O'Neill; The Glass Menagerie, Williams; Death of a Salesman, Miller; A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry; Funnyhouse of a Negro, Kennedy; Uncommon Women and Others, Wasserstein; Fefu and Her Friends, Fornes; spell #7, Shange; Fool for Love, Shepard; Fences, Wilson; Oleanna, Mamet; and How I Learned to Drive, Vogel.

Two of the study's research questions explored the types of gender roles and behaviors that the characters presented. Two questions focused on considering if the time period or the sex of the playwright were factors in the presentations of gender. Gender behaviors were divided into four categories: Behavior Characteristics, Communication Patterns, Sources of Power, and Physical Appearance. Using narrative analysis techniques, the plays were analyzed for the specific traits in each category.

The majority of the characters were assigned traditional gender roles and displayed traditional gender behavior traits. Based their gender roles and behavior in their roles, characters faced limitations that confined their actions and restricted their choices. Characters experienced consequences for their behaviors, and female characters received harsher punishments for deviant behaviors than male characters. Gender portrayal in Modern plays was more in keeping with traditional patterns than in Postmodern plays. Female playwrights presented more diverse roles for female characters and often explored gender as a major theme in their plays. Where applicable, race, in concert with gender, was an additional factor that governed characters' behaviors by further restricting behavior or possible actions.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.