Date of Award

8-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Michael Knight

Committee Members

Allen Wier, Margaret L. Dean, John Nolt

Abstract

This dissertation addresses the notable lack of the comic mode in contemporary ecofiction and aims to integrate humor and ecological inflection through the female narrative voice. Comedy and ecology rarely intersect in literary fiction. Ecofiction tends to be unfunny because the category grows out of the nonfiction tradition of nature writing, a genre that yields solemn, reverent, meditative essays that lack humor. Also, works of ecofiction can seem didactic, lacking the complexity, richness, and ambiguity that characterize literary fiction. Furthermore, literary critics often view comedic stories as lacking in literary quality. However, comedy has an intensifying effect on narrative, imbuing tragic moments with greater darkness and eliciting conflicted emotions in the reader. Literary fiction is characterized by this kind of ambiguity, evidenced by some of the finest works of contemporary literary short fiction that integrate comedy and tragedy.

Accordingly, I aim to write comic stories that are imbued with loss, darkness or loneliness. Ecofiction provides a ripe context for my work, as does the young female voice. Ecofiction stems from the modern predicament of rootlessness, alienation, transience, isolation—of our detachment from place. Stories that feature characters afflicted by this malaise are “eco” in the sense that they make us more aware of our contemporary relationship (or lack thereof) to the natural world. Most significantly, these stories are ripe for the intersection of comic and tragic. In my own stories, I strive to create comic female first person narrators whose actions reveal lives deeply afflicted by loneliness, placelessness, and disconnection, and whose inner wildness provides the primary source of comic dramatic tension. These protagonists are motivated by a desperate need to forge meaningful connections in a world that is precariously poised on a foundation of contingencies and whose stories are simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching.

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