Freedom fighters: the violent pursuit of existential freedom in selected 20th century American narratives

Patey, Helen Frances (2008) Freedom fighters: the violent pursuit of existential freedom in selected 20th century American narratives. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

This project undertakes a study of the representations of violence in a number of twentieth century American narratives. Traditional approaches to violence, both real and fictitious, frequently focus on causal analysis in an attempt to divide the violent from the non-violent. Such analysis precludes the shared human experiences that form the basis of existential philosophy. Approaching violent narratives from the perspective of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, my study considers certain acts ofviolence as originating from a distorted search for freedom and autonomy. -- "Freedom Fighters" is divided into five chapters, four of which focus on a series of texts from different eras, different authors, and different social settings. Their commonalities result from the characters' use of violence, in one form or another, to attempt to give a sense of meaning and freedom to their human existence. In so doing, they confront a diversity of social circumstances, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not so successfully. Chapter One introduces the basic theories of violence and explores the philosophical concepts of existentialism that illuminate such theories. Part One includes Chapters Two and Three; it reflects on the desperation produced by the need to escape from threats to freedom. Chapter Two considers the fear provoked by racial intimidation as particularized in slavery; it explores texts by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison. The first three authors have particular significance to this work because of their own affinity for the philosophical writings of Sartre. Chapter Three in Part One deals with the responses to a new form of slavery, perhaps as pernicious as the old: that of corporate capitalist domination. Part Two, which includes Chapters Four and Five, deals with the freedom to become self-realized--to individuate. Chapter Four explores the movement towards individuation in novels by E.L. Doctorow and Walker Percy. In Chapter Five, the issues surrounding the struggle for subjective freedom in the face of gender dynamics are analyzed. The thesis concludes with a further consideration of the implications of Sartre's philosophy for a more complete and constructive understanding of violent behaviour. -- "Freedom Fighters" offers a new critical approach to the understanding of violence in texts, and subsequently perhaps in reality. Introducing the ideas of Sartre into such analysis opens up a new field of inquiry that will, one hopes, lead to innovative critical approaches. Reading the philosophy of existentialism with a more affirmative gaze offers the potential to shed new light on traditional concepts of individualism, freedom, and violent action.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/11220
Item ID: 11220
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 194-207).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2008
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: American literature--20th century--History and criticism; Civil rights in literature; Violence in literature.

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