Date Awarded

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Charles F. McGovern

Committee Member

Grey Gundaker

Committee Member

Arthur Knight

Committee Member

Andrew Haley


Sweets—cake, candy, cookies, ice cream, and any other sugary treat—are a favored component of the American diet. They are also a familiar motif in the American cultural landscape. From the Good Ship Lollipop to Candy Crush Saga, imagined and imagined confections suffuse media and amusements, where they serve as both site and subject for negotiating economic and social tensions in the collective imagination. The visual and material depiction of sweets in the cultural landscape composes what I call the “confectionery vernacular,” a hybrid graphic language that provides an interdisciplinary framework within which to consider the American experience. Whether illustrated, photographed, filmed, or fabricated, these inedible reproductions do not impart sugar’s neurochemical or gustatory pleasures, yet their prevalence affirms sweets’ power to satisfy more than hunger. In the mass culture of the American 1930s, imagined scenarios of confectionery abundance probed anxieties related to widespread economic and social instability. This dissertation explores the confectionery vernacular constructed in four specific sites. The Wheatsworth Gingerbread Castle, a Hamburg, New Jersey roadside attraction, was a three-story monument that used imaginary edibility to promote nutritious whole wheat snacks. A selection of short cartoons set in confectionery Cockaignes borrowed tropes from Medieval folklore to imagine worlds of redemptive abundance and leisure. A second set of narrative cartoons lampooned confectionery mass-production and probed the indignities of industrial alienation. Finally, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Continental Baking Company’s Wonder Bakery used a beloved fairy tale, an urban wheat field, and a sexy scarecrow to mitigate consumer apprehension about mass-produced baked goods. From the Great Depression to the present, the confectionery vernacular has coalesced imagination, aesthetics, and social mores into a visual network, mapping how people construct meaning in hardship and in comfort.



© The Author

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