Date of Award

1991

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Kenneth Zagacki

Abstract

This study examines the rhetorical functions of a community ritual, the blessing of the shrimp fleet at Chauvin, Louisiana. Chauvin is a Cajun community in south Louisiana. Their annual fleet blessing was instituted in the 1930's and continues today relatively unchanged. The author observed the preparations and performance of the blessing and boat parade and also interviewed community members about the blessing. The observations and interview transcriptions are the primary data used for analysis of the community discourse. Fantasy theme analysis is used to demonstrate the community's use of discourse to develop and maintain group hierarchy. The discourse reveals six fantasy themes prevalent in the discourse of the people of Chauvin. The six--unity, security, perpetuation, pride, care-taking, and pioneering--are traits attributed to the shrimpers whose profession is "blessed" by the ritual. The fantasy themes chain into a rhetorical vision that reinforces the perception that the shrimpers are heroes. Their success or failure determines the economic status of the entire community. Thus they are crusaders whose quest is to defeat the community's fears and enemies to ensure economic stability. The discourse about the blessing reveals four communal fears: loss of land, of business, of religious roots, and of cultural identification. Fantasy theme analysis permits the researcher to investigate how these fears pressure the group, and how discourse about the blessing spawns new fantasy themes that group members can use to adapt to the pressures. Similarly, villains such as intrusive outsiders, non-participating insiders, and the forces of nature are revealed through the discourse. This study shows how the discourse of the blessing of the shrimp fleet unites the Cajuns of Chauvin in combating their fears and their villainous foes. Through the ritual the members of this community continue to reaffirm their Acadian culture and identity in the face of internal and external pressures to conform to mainstream American social values. Eventually, the community members will have to fend off encroachments more aggressively. Fantasy theme analysis reveals that the community members currently lack verbal strategies to help them address the increasing pressures directly.

Pages

334

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