Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis attempts to answer the following questions: What is the relationship between the American social system and its depiction in American fiction, principally in Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom!? and How can one disentangle the workings of race, gender, and sexuality in the American social system, when such a knot depends upon queer desire for its strength and energy to an exaggerated degree? Ultimately, I argue that one way to pull these threads apart is to implement a queer deconstructive approach informed by narrative theories of desire, but to begin to answer this question, I contend that the Romantic version of Satan is inherently queer and that as Byronic heroes, Ahab and Sutpen’s queerness deconstructs the binaries that would ensure the “success” of their designs by magnifying and critiquing the ways in which race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class are predicated on socially constructed and interlocking binaries to assure the supremacy of (those who at least appear to be) powerful white, wealthy, heterosexual, cisgender men like Ahab and Sutpen. In my analysis of the queer impulses of Ahab and Sutpen, I draw on Jaime Harker’s model of the Southern social system as predicated on an “unholy trinity” formed by the “whore,” “nigger,” and “queer” to advance a new approach to interpreting triangular relationships of power and desire in the in the American novel (Harker 112). In my analysis of Sutpen, I layer romantic triangles inspired by the work of René Girard in Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961) over the triangle of the “whore,” “nigger,” and “queer” to explore the ways in which mediated desire between “whores,” “niggers,” and “queers” disrupts cultural hegemony. Queer erotic dynamics involving Ahab are more often bivalent than triangular, but both Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom! feature queer erotic desire across racial boundaries, that reveal deep racial fantasies. I maintain that both novels are palimpsests of queer desire and that as Byronic heroes Ahab and Sutpen, though not the characters most frequently discussed in queer readings of Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom!, produce, benefit from and blend back into the queer milieu of each text. I end by arguing that Sutpen’s Hundred metonymically stands in for the American South and that the Pequod represents The American Project in its entirety. It is my view that these novels model a hermeneutic (part: whole) relationship that makes them especially apt choices for probing this uniquely American matrix of social power and for highlighting the transformative potential of partially unearthed counter-narratives.
Number of Pages
Smith, Alana, "Cutting the Gordian Knot: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom!" (2018). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 911.
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