Title page for ETD etd-0602103-145436

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Sandefur, Amy Faulds
Author's Email Address arf98@mindspring.com
URN etd-0602103-145436
Title Narrative Immediacy and First-Person Voice in Contemporary American Novels
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Peggy Prenshaw Committee Chair
David Madden Committee Member
James Olney Committee Member
John Lowe Committee Member
Alan Fletcher Dean's Representative
  • bildungsroman
  • point of view
  • narrative voice
  • self-identity
  • life writing
Date of Defense 2003-05-12
Availability unrestricted
This study of first-person fictive narration analyzes a selection of contemporary American novels so as to understand and describe more fully a literary effect I call immediacy. I employ the term immediacy to define narrative situations in which little durational gap exists between experience and narration and in which little ideological and emotional distance is communicated between the narrating persona and the subject self. The following chapters provide a close examination of narrative techniques employed by writers in the creation of immediacy and argues that both the tone of the novels and their themes of maturation and self-identity are attributable to strategies of narration. The novelists studied here use these strategies to reflect the complex, dichotomous nature of self-identity and to re-envision modes of self-representative writing such as autobiography and Bildungsroman.

Each of the texts considered features a narrator-protagonist who faces and overcomes oppressive and restrictive circumstances. As in previous scholarship, this work argues that the act of self-narration is constitutive of a character’s achievement of self-actualization. More specifically, I argue that the narrator’s close proximity to experiences, an aspect of fiction often overlooked, contributes significantly to the impact effected by the narrative voice. By composing a narration that occurs seemingly in conjunction with experience, the writers studied here depict the changing process of identity development rather than a narrator’s reconstruction of it through reflection. Through the fluidity that results, writers develop protagonists who defy conventional definitions. Thus the immediacy characterizing the narration of these works signifies agency achieved by the marginalized protagonists. Additionally, the flexibility of the form aids novelists in achieving the dual purposes of portraying an authentic-seeming individual voice and conveying social commentary.

The concluding chapter examines the salience of narrative immediacy in novels in which a substantial temporal gap exists between narration and experience. This broadening of the study illustrates that narrator proximity is indeed worth study, not only for extending the parameters of narrative theory, but also for enhancing our understanding of the intricate ways in which narrative voice interacts with theme and cultural context.

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