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Title:Wolfish Festivity: The Humor of American Frontier Literature
Author(s):Collins, Mark Leonard
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:This study attempts to revise the established way of discussing American frontier humor by arguing that its nature is a dynamic exchange between renewal and degradation or festive and wolfish expression. The festive tradition offers readers the vicarious pleasure of wanton "misrule" (also called saturnalian revelry or carnival freedom). The "wolfish" reference in the title derives from the work of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), in which man is an enemy of every man, and the state of nature is lawless and cruel.
The conventional view that the frontier is exclusively American is broadened to emphasize American interplay with the European literary tradition (the "festive" in Shakespeare and the "carnivalesque" theories of Mikhail Bakhtin). This interplay shapes a two-sided humor that is festive and wolfish. I define frontier humor as theatrical story-telling which counters civilized restraint with the festive fun of the body, and delights in exposing the wolfish side of white civilization--a vitality mixed with revelry and contempt, a joyous and a dark side.
Chapter One defines terms to be used in this study of frontier humor. Chapter Two analyzes the evolution of wolfish festivity in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America. Its literary depiction begins with William Bradford's history of the decline of Puritan community, especially the sections recording the activity of confidence man and a festive rebellion. Hawthorne's "The May-Pole of Merrymount" treats the festive rebellion as a paradigmatic conflict between pagan jollity and Christian gloom. Mary Rowlandson's Indian captivity narrative shows Wilderness opposing civilization, with Indians as demonic and savage. The works of James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving introduce the frontier humor of wild and degenerate types.
Chapter Three analyzes the Southwestern humor circulated nationally in Spirit of the Times. Southwestern humor virtually parodies the festive and wolfish humor of Irving and Cooper. The remaining chapters analyze later inversions of Southwestern humor. Chapter Four examines Mark Twain's major frontier works. Chapter Five compares the frontier humor writtern by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville. Chapter Six analyzes a further adaptation of the festive tradition by William Faulkner.
Issue Date:1987
Description:294 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1987.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8721615
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1987

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