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Type: Thesis
Title: Sacrifice in suburbia: American novels as troubled tragedies
Author: Osborn, Carly Janette Norman
Issue Date: 2015
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English and Creative Writing
Abstract: In this thesis I enlist the mimetic theory of René Girard to argue that three twentieth-century American novels — Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm, and Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road — are tragic texts. I demonstrate that these novels are participating in a tradition begun in sacrificial ritual and myth, in which a victim is blamed for a crisis and sacrificed for the benefit of a troubled community. I then argue that the tragic sacrifice is subverted and complicated by various textual means, subcategorising the novels as ‘anti-tragedies’ that present the characteristic features of tragedy but problematise its cathartic effects. To ground my analysis, I establish an understanding of the American Dream as tragic, by examining three non-fiction texts on the Dream. I then briefly consider Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as a play that deploys tragedy as discourse about the American Dream, before moving to a critical evaluation of the three novels. I make a case for the legitimacy of considering the novel as part of the tradition of tragedy. I find that each novel contains a plethora of tragic tropes—those thematic features of ritual and myth identified by Girard, the treatment of which is significant in terms of cathartic effect. I argue that the novel has a unique capacity to problematise its own narrative and thus function as a ‘self conscious’ tragedy, and that this self-consciousness makes sacrifice the subject of the text rather than a structural element within it. Girard’s mimetic theory has been criticised for its lack of attention to gender and to the experiences of women. My analysis of the significance of the female bodies in Eugenides’, Moody’s, and Yates’s novels extends Girardian scholarship in its consideration of women as scapegoats, and pays particular attention to gender in ways that Girard himself has not. I iv present evidence that the narrative attitude towards select female bodies in the three novels is directly relevant to their eligibility as Girardian scapegoats. Whereas previous Girardian scholarship has analysed novels for their treatment of one or more aspects of mimetic theory, such as mimetic desire or scapegoating, my thesis is the first work to analyse modern novels as tragedies: that is, as narratives in dialogue with the entire story-arc of ritual and myth. In doing so, my thesis strengthens the Girardian claim that tragedies are sacrificial scapegoat-rituals in narrative form. I then take Girard’s minor remarks about the ‘anti-mythical’ nature of modern tragedies, and extend this speculation into a detailed analysis of how such modern tragedies enact their anti-tragic subversions.
Advisor: Potter, Lucy
Treagus, Mandy
Kerr, Heather
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2015
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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