Narrative and the body in John Barth, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Frank Palmeri - Committee Chair


This dissertation investigates the relationship between representations of the body, usually female, and the production of narrative. In extended quest-narratives such as Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor and Gaddis's J R, the authors establish an analogy between the female and the shape of the text: narrative is generated by employing the female as an obstacle to a male's quest and also by associating the growing female body with the expansion of the text. In briefer works, like Barth's The End of the Road and Gaddis's Carpenter's Gothic, the writers dispense with the romance quest and intensify their focus on the female body, using controlling measures to restrain the movement of the central female characters. The disciplinary gaze employed in these tightly-controlled narratives leads to the destruction of the females who are scrutinized.In V., Pynchon parodies the romance form to show the quest as ultimately destructive. He undercuts the convention of the female body as source of narrative and repository of meaning while he satirizes the reader's search for formulaic interpretations. The Crying of Lot 49 inverts standard gender roles and changes the traditional shape of the quest paradigm. Unlike female characters in the works by Barth and Gaddis, the protagonist in Lot 49 is not a figure of delay but a heroine who finds more significance in digressive alternatives than in completing the quest.


Literature, Modern; Literature, American

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