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Title:Solitary Souls: Awakening Responses in American Literature
Author(s):Karle, Katherine Arvilla
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hendrick, George
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:To develop their inner lives, American fictional characters like Melville's Ishmael, Twain's Huck Finn, and Chopin's Edna Pontellier strive to see themselves accurately in relation to others and to American society in general. During this process of self-definition, these characters frequently experience an awakening, an epiphany that encourages them to alter permanently their attitudes or behavior. How American characters react to their awakening is the subject of this dissertation. This study's specific concern is with the limited number of awakening response types found in American literature and film and the degree to which the awakened characters exhibit the ability and/or willingness to change their relationships with others.
While American literature offers a wide variety of characters (from Henry James's Olive Chandler to Richard Wright's Bigger Thomas), American characters exhibit only a limited number of responses to their awakenings: awakening + positive momentum, awakening + inability to act, and awakening + distortion. Further, response types are not necessarily linked to gender, class, or ethnicity. In spite of the difference in gender and historical time period, for instance, Bigger Thomas reacts to an awakening in a way similar to that of the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper." The "awakened" perceptions of both characters are distorted in the same way as a result of the characters' inability to develop in the face of societal restrictions. Both characters feel a sense of freedom at the end of the work, but the reader sees, as the characters do not, that each character has "responded" to the awakening in a limited and self-destructive way.
Chapter 1 of the dissertation addresses the awakening's spiritual history in America and describes the awakening response types to be addressed. Chapter 2 addresses the development of both spiritual and physical awakenings from Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" to the contemporary Alien film trilogy. Chapter 3 distinguishes between youth and adult awakenings and responses, discussing the various stages fictional youth pass through on their way to an awakening. Chapters 4 through 6 address the three adult awakening response types as set forth in this study by offering in-depth discussions of particular characters: Ch. 4/Edna Pontellier and Biff Loman, Ch. 5/Jay Gatsby and J. Alfred Prufrock, Ch. 6/Bigger Thomas and Arthur Dimmesdale. The final chapter addresses the self-reliant nature of American fictional characters and the relationship between this nature and the awakening responses discussed.
Issue Date:1993
Description:207 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI9411666
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1993

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