Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis explores the role played by narrative desire within two modernist experimentations with novel form: Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Antonia and William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936). In it, I argue that Cather and Faulkner utilize framing narratives in order to present the main plot of each novel as a product of multiple narrators' desire for a story to emerge. In My Antonia, it is the expressed wish of Jim Burden's nameless writer friend that compels him to finish writing his account of Antonia, which constitutes the main plot of the novel. Meanwhile, in Absalom, Absalom! it is Quentin's perception that Rosa "wants it told" which inspires him to investigate and reconstruct her ex-fiancee Thomas Sutpen's life story with the help of two other character-narrators: his father and college roommate Shreve.
Calling on narrative theory and psychoanalysis, I argue that Cather's and Faulkner's novels depict characters' desire for both storytelling and each other to be enigmatic and intersubjective. Indeed the impulse to generate narrative on the part of the tellers in both texts--notably Jim and Quentin--is seen to arise out of a partial, but not entirely clear, sense that another wants them to do so. In other words, the narrative desire conveyed by the nameless writer and Rosa appears to have no clear object. While it is understood by Jim and Quentin that a story is desired of them, the full extent of what this story might come to be about is never fully explicated by their interlocutors.
Theoretically, the intervention this project wagers by way of Cather and Faulkner is a rethinking of two influential attempts to bring together narrative theory and psychoanalysis: Peter Brooks' Reading for the Plot (1984) and Judith Roof's Come As You Are (1996). While the claims regarding narrative advanced by both Brooks and Roof rely primarily on Freud's work (notably his theories of the death drive and of sexual development), I attempt to demonstrate how Lacan's thinking allows us to understand narrative as issuing from a desire that is at once intersubjective and objectless--as appears to be the case in My Antonia and Absalom, Absalom!. Lacan's dynamic conceptualization of desire, I suggest, is not only essential to understanding these two works; it is also very much implicit within the interplay of desire and narrative form they establish.
Number of Pages
Street, Monroe, "Wanting It Told: Narrative Desire in Cather and Faulkner" (2015). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 528.