Date of Award

12-15-2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mark Noble

Second Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Chris Kocela

Abstract

American literature has an established history of interrogating subjective experience and what it means to be a person. As a result, American writers have a produced a pattern of thought that expresses a fascination with both the possibilities and devastating consequences that attend to competing visions of the self. This dissertation explores various attempts to theorize and tolerate experiences of “double consciousness”—a term introduced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois. Examining how Emerson conceptualizes double consciousness as an ideal state of being introduces a theory of consciousness that reveals the difficulties associated with merging different iterations of the self to achieve this ideal state. Emily Dickinson translates this theory of consciousness into a condition suffered by subjects. Her meditations reveal that, while double consciousness may be something for which to strive, this condition comes with painful ramifications for individuated subjects. While Dickinson internalizes double consciousness as an experience felt by subjects, Henry James externalizes this condition to explore its effects not only on the individual subject, but also the ramifications of double consciousness on others with whom the subject forms social relationships. These meditations demonstrate how the experience of double consciousness not only devastates individuals, but also the systems of life in which they participate. Robert Penn Warren, on the other hand, strategically attempts to ameliorate the difficulties produced by states of double consciousness through the use of narrative technology and temporality so that an individual may achieve this state without necessarily suffering from it. “Self-Knowledge and ‘the end of man’: The Paradox of Double Consciousness in American Literature” thus produces an intellectual history that transcends period and genre demarcations to nuance traditional renderings of a subject’s ability to merge multiple and competing versions of self-hood.

Available for download on Thursday, November 29, 2018

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