Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Maria A. Windell
If there is a leitmotif to American criticism of the past fifty years it is that America, exceptionally, was not discovered but constructed. Those in a new world void of self-evident tradition or the conventional markers of history, the story goes, invented an organic truth to their past experience, current interests, and future intentions. They constructed cultural memory. Fiction from the early national period, critics argue, variously reflects, exposes, challenges, and participates in this hegemonic process.
This project is dedicated to another group of American writers who insisted that the land did speak: Mormon and Gentile immigrants who walked west the breadth of a new nation and in their journals described haunted rock cities and uncanny Indian massacres. In these descriptions, poetic patterns prove more powerful than manifest appearances. The complex erosion and accretion of these rock cities and these massacre stories prompts reassessment of nineteenth-century Euro-American settlers’ relationship with the land and the land’s inhabitants and alternate interpretations of the seminal texts of American Romanticism.
In Chapter 1, I consider Idaho’s City of Rock’s mythical Almo Massacre in the context of Mormon prophecy, theology, and history. In this reading, I am centrally concerned with the effects of the story’s poetics: how does the Almo-Massacre story invent and perform the nation? The Mountain Meadows Massacre, and its translation from its authentic site to the site of its mythical reenactment in the City of Rocks, is my central concern in Chapter 2. Chapter 2 reminds us that trauma narratives are never about authentic specifics of place, time, or experience but about synesthetic sense: how things feel. This sense is artifactual, and thus heritable and transportable. This revelation informs my readings of the journals of America’s nineteenth-century overland immigrants who walked west and described not the virgin land of American myth but contested space. In Chapter 4, I turn to three of America’s canonical nineteenth-century nation stories: Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In these stories, the world-as-felt matters as fully as the world-as-seen.
Emmons, Ann, "Sermons in Stones: Discovering the Nation" (2015). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 79.