Date of Award

Winter 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sarah Way Sherman


"Dirty Whites and Dark Secrets: Sex and Race in Peyton Place " suggests that Grace Metalious's 1956 potboiler Peyton Place contains a critique of race which may have been just as unsettling to a mid-century readership as the novel's famed critique of sexuality. Peyton Place is most often said to be "about" sex. In this study, I argue that it is also "about" race, and that it is the racing of the sex that may have provoked the scandalized outcry against the novel. My work posits that Peyton Place's controversial reputation resulted from Metalious's racialized representations of sexuality and the racialization of the spaces in which the sex takes place: the northern New England town in which she sets her story and the homes therein. Peyton Place is a white town with a black founding father, a fact few in the community are willing to disclose. The anxiety produced by this fact is managed through the repression of Samuel Peyton's racial identity, a collective denial which attempts to maintain the facade of the town's whiteness despite its roots. It is an anxious denial doomed to failure, as Peyton's place in the town's civic history is memorialized in stone in the form of a castle ("the Peyton place") upon a local hilltop. Peyton Place was then and remains today a rather racy read. I maintain that Metalious's novel is not simply participating in the long literary history of establishing and manipulating a dichotomy of white and black in order to articulate and fortify the terms of white identity, a practice Toni Morrison has famously called "playing in the dark." Rather, the narrative intervenes in this pattern of representation, questioning the supposed truth behind its assumptions. It is my belief that Peyton Place scandalized readers and reviewers because of the extent to which it examined and exposed the artifice of race through those same soft-core taboos that enticed its readers between its sheets.