Date of Award

1997

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Bainard C. Cowan

Abstract

This study examines the relationship between writing and American identity in four works--William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, Herman Melville's Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun: Or The Romance of Monte Beni--by illuminating the difficulty that the narrator of each work has in constructing and maintaining his vision of American identity. For Bradford and Franklin, the analysis centers on their attempts to confront the historical complexities of American society--Bradford confronting the economic realities of colonialism, Franklin confronting the difficulty of organizing governance after the American Revolution. For Melville and Hawthorne, the analysis centers on their ironic but historically-based presentation of American identity through a self-interested or naive narrator, and on their texts' subsequent comments on the problems of American expansionism and slavery. Though not strictly a Bakhtinian analysis, this study employs Mikhail Bakhtin's categories of monological and dialogical discourse as a reference for showing how language and history help destabilize written constructions of American identity. In each work, a narrator creates American identity by suppressing or ignoring elements of American experience that subsequent events, or even events contemporary to the narrators, have proved to be of essential importance. When read retrospectively from our own point in time, these elements show their hidden presence in the narratives by disrupting their schemes for American identity. The appearance of these elements proves instructive about the works themselves, their times, their authors, and their relationships with each other. Each chapter addresses the problem of writing and American identity by describing a literary and historical basis for each construction of American identity, by identifying the suppressed elements of American experience in each construction, and by showing how knowledge of these elements affects both the narrator's construction of American identity and the way in which we read the narratives. Each chapter ends with a conclusion that attempts to resituate the works in relation to the increasing emphasis on social and political consciousness that affects American literary studies.

ISBN

9780591459067

Pages

218

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