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Alluding to Protest: Resistance in Post War American Literature
Calhoun, Jamie Dawn

2009, Doctor of Philosophy, Miami University, English.

This dissertation traces a distinctive form of literary citation in the late twentieth century and proposes that a number of important late twentieth century works reuse essentialist and possibly racist discourse to create more humane and ethical concepts of selfhood. The texts in this dissertation “play” with and critically engage with the notion of the “other” through intense allusion and citation of dominant literary and cultural narratives in order to resist the exclusionary, dominant ideology of American selfhood. My project focuses on four such novels – Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water, Percival Everett’s Erasure, and Robert Coover’s The Public Burning – which redeploy narratives that represent ethnic minorities in racist and essentialist ways.

For example, Maxine Hong Kingston builds her novel around the writings and performances of Walt Whitman, Sui Sin Far, Frank Chin, and the nineteenth century “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker. Alluding to Far’s idealized Eurasian “one family,” Chin’s authentic ethnic self, and the exotic “other” represented by the Bunker twins, Kingston critiques and reformulates essentialist discourse to produce an anti-racist subject. The chapter on Percival Everett’s Erasure traces a similar critique of resistance as Everett draws on aspects of both sides of an historical African American dialectic between separatism and universalism. The third chapter considers the imperialist narratives that Thomas King uses to build his novel, Green Grass Running Water, and shows how his allusive storytelling reimagines the traditional form of the Western, linear story. Robert Coover in The Public Burning parodies the narrative of Manifest Destiny and the repression of dissent on the American’s journey to the apotheosis of his self.

This dissertation proves that one can ironically engage with the very discourse that might erase one as a “legible” subject in order to reformulate discourses of exclusion. This intriguing pattern of allusion in twentieth century American literature compels a reconsideration of our literary moment and of the means of critique available to contemporary writers.

Dr. Timothy Melley (Advisor)
Dr. Stefanie Dunning (Committee Member)
Dr. Madelyn Detloff (Committee Member)
Dr. Marguerite Shaffer (Committee Member)
160 p.

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Calhoun, J. (2009). Alluding to Protest: Resistance in Post War American Literature. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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Calhoun, Jamie. "Alluding to Protest: Resistance in Post War American Literature." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2009. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 23 Oct 2018.

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Calhoun, Jamie "Alluding to Protest: Resistance in Post War American Literature." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2009.


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