The reaction against realism in contemporary American fiction: a study of the work of John Hawkes, John Barth and Thomas Pynchon

Mackenzie, Ursula A. (1978) The reaction against realism in contemporary American fiction: a study of the work of John Hawkes, John Barth and Thomas Pynchon. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the reaction against realism in the work of three contemporary American novelists, John Barth, John Hawkes and Thomas Pynchon, with a view both to elucidating their individual literary styles and concerns, and to suggesting why these writers no longer consider realism a valid fictional mode.

Chapter One defines realism as a product of a nineteenth century philosophical and scientific world-view; it traces the changes which have developed in twentieth century thinking from the work of Einstein and Freud, and suggests the different effects these have had on novelists. The chapter continues with a brief analysis of one work by each of four writers in fields other than literature, Herbert Marcuse, Norman 0. Brown, Theodore Roszak, and Alan Watts; the work of these writers can be seen to parallel the attempts of the three novelists to express in their fiction the possibility of alternative realities.

Chapter Two examines the fiction of John Hawkes; it traces a development in his fiction from the overtly experimental early novels, to the apparently more straightforward later ones, exposing this apparent return to convention as an illusion, and suggesting that "reality" to John Hawkes has never been less important than in his most recent work, Travesty. The chapter locates Hawkes' central concerns as a novelist in his exploration of the unconscious and of the power of the human imagination.

Chapter Three explores both the multi-referential and the playfully satiric nature of John Barth's fiction; it examines the development from The Sot-Weed Factor, which exposes the inadequacy of the realistic world-view when it is placed in a twentieth century context, to chimera, which celebrates the vitality and significance of fictions within life.

Chapter Four is a discussion of the work of Thomas Pynchon, and provides the central focus of the thesis. It suggests that Pynchon's real achievement lies in his uncompromising rejection of the concept of a single, definable reality, of linear approaches to experience, of the inevitability of cause and effect, in other words, the underlying structures of realism, because he has created in their place a more complete alternative that recognizes the validity of multiple versions of reality.

The conclusion puts forward the view that these writers share a loathing for the prescriptiveness of reality, and that their fiction becomes an act of rebellion against all the limitations imposed upon the human imagination and its freedom.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Literature, mass media, performing arts
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
ID Code:1123
Deposited By:June Walsh
Deposited On:11 Feb 2010 08:55
Last Modified:11 Feb 2010 08:55

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