Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Zunshine

Abstract

Partial Minds argues that contemporary American novels strategically break conventionally-defined norms for the representation of fictional minds to highlight unusual character thoughts. Certain states of mind—including traumatic experiences, conflicting feelings, some memories, and the simultaneous possession of multiple identities—are more difficult to represent than others, and so some authors or narrators reject conventional cognitive representations, such as naming feelings, if they seem poor tools for effectively communicating that character’s exceptional quality to the reader. For example, the trauma of Marianne in Joyce Carol Oates’s We Were the Mulvaneys is represented by the narrator, her brother Judd. But in attempting to represent the state of Marianne’s mind on the night she was raped, Judd finds that simply turning to a verbalized account of her thoughts, such as “I felt terrible,” or a seeming-omniscient gloss of her mental state, such as “She suffered incredible mental turmoil,” is insufficient and incommensurate with the traumatic and painful mental state she must have endured. In cases like these, authors and narrators reject conventional models of representation and turn to partial minds to effectively articulate to the reader the mental state that the character experiences. These more effective representations are pivotal in communicating to the reader a more adequate—whether from a mimetic, synthetic, or thematic perspective—understanding of characters’ experiences. Partial minds are often the very required conditions for readers to empathize with a character. By looking at several different instantiations of partial minds in recent American novels, I show how this technique both heightens the value of cognitive narrative criticism and revises the way we read many of literature’s most interesting characters.

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