Date of Thesis

2014

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Michael Drexler

Keywords

Charles Brockden Brown, Paul Auster, Master narratives, Imagined communities, Trauma

Abstract

Through the use of a common language, a common history, and widespread communication of current events, the American collective psyche creates for itself a founding mythology, an almost all-encompassing cultural narrative that subsumes every major plot point in the country's history, interpreting new events and reinterpreting old ones. The United States' founding mythology creates a basic interpretive framework with which American citizens can begin creating their own identities while retaining a sense of community. However, because the founding mythology of a community as large as a nation must represent a large number of people, it cannot be terribly complex, as far as narratives go. The deep-seated emotions and psychological states of each individual citizen cannot possibly be accounted for, so the founding mythology paints history in broad strokes, only describing actors, actions, and logical causes and effects. Trauma, most obviously moments of great, unexplainable violence, undermines the basic assumption that history can consist of logical chains of causality, an assumption that founding mythologies require in order to exist. The loss of faith in a founding mythology can be traumatic in and of itself, but as I will argue in this paper, a self-awareness of the founding mythology's artifice can lead to a sort of recovery, or at least acceptance. I will discuss the novels of Charles Brockden Brown and Paul Auster, who evidence self-awareness of language's and narrative's constructed nature through their fiction. The traumatic pulling-away from the safety of the founding mythology ironically also allows for the reordering of personal experiences into private narratives, free from the insufficiency of the founding mythology.

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