Locating the butt of ridicule: Humor and social class in early American literature

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Title: Locating the butt of ridicule: Humor and social class in early American literature
Author: Coronado, Teresa Marie Freeman, 1975-
Abstract: This project critiques the performance of class identity through the works of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonial and early national period authors using the lens of humor, primarily as posed by Elliot Oring and Henri Bergson's theories of laughter and the ridiculous. My argument is that under the guise of laughter these works conceal the underpinnings of an American class system which can be revealed through close reading and historical research. In my dissertation, I examine the performance of each author in his or her own autobiography and the reflection of that performance within the larger frame of the development of American status structures. The characters in the texts of the authors I work with in this project demonstrate the use of the comic persona to, as scholar Robert Micklus states, "locate the butt of ridicule anywhere but in their own mirrors"; however, in my project I examine this within the context of class. Chapter I examines the work of Madame Sarah Knight, The Journal of Madame Knight, and William Byrd II's The Secret History of the Line --both of whom use humor to disguise their class insecurities. In Chapter II, I examine the performance of class hierarchy, as seen through Franklin's Autobiography and John Robert Shaw's John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807. In Chapter III, I examine the complications of race involved in class relations, using John Marrant's autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of John Marrant, a Free Black. Chapter IV examines David Crockett's humorous performance of the middle landscape frontiersman as part of a valorized national identity in The Narrative of David Crockett. The ideology that prompts the so-called invisibility of class in United States society today requires us to examine it under a critical lens; this project uses humor as that lens. In questioning the laughter of early American texts, we can see the class divides of early American society being created--an important step to realizing how these divides are maintained in our world today.
Description: x, 196 p. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/8309
Date: 2008-06

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