Some adaptive functions of narratives and their implications for literary criticism




Turpin, Jeffrey Peter

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This dissertation defines and partially delimits literary Darwinism and adaptationist criticism, relatively new critical paradigms that combine science and art to explore the multiple ways that story creation and consumption help us adapt to modern social environments. In Chapter II studies from cognitive psychology are used to analyze various autobiographical narratives, poems, novels, stories, and essays by Latina/o authors Tomás Rivera, Cherríe Moraga, Américo Paredes, and Gloria Anzaldúa, to show how these narratives help establish existence, persona, agency and status for the author, and how these functions can be extended to members of the larger culture represented by that author. In Chapter III studies from anthropology and biology are used to analyze the cultural functions of journey and origin myths, to look at how these stories can either establish claims to property or act as surrogates for lost property for people in exile, expatriates, emigrants, immigrants, subjects of colonization, or otherwise de-territorialized people. The developed analytical hypotheses are subsequently applied to Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony, to demonstrate specific critical implications of the new theoretical set. In Chapter IV studies from evolutionary psychology are applied to works by Edith Wharton and John Steinbeck, to show how elements of the new paradigm can open up established texts and reveal new facets of those works. The project ends with a summary and response to critiques of the new paradigm, and discussion of further implications.


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American Naturalism, Chicana/o Literature, Evolutionary Psychology, Literary Darwinism, Territorialite