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For Who the River Carries: Marginalised Perspectives on Twentieth-Century Literature

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posted on 2023-09-26, 01:36 authored by Bultitude, Danny

This thesis examines the representation of rivers from marginalised American authors of the twentieth-century. American rivers are notably diverse and variable natural features, and as symbols they offer extensive metaphorical potential. Rivers also hold a rich literary history in America, notably in the work of canonical nineteenth-century writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry D. Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain. The idealised depictions found in the work of these four authors act as a foundation which the marginalised writers of the following century both develop and subvert. The selected marginalised writers fall into three overlapping categories, to each of which is devoted a chapter. To examine those marginalised by economy and class, I have turned to Cormac McCarthy’s 1979 novel Suttree and the poetry of James Wright. Both concern themselves with poverty, river pollution, theology, suicide, and the desolation of American idealism. In my chapter on African American writing, Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved and selected poems by Sterling A Brown, Audre Lorde, and Margaret Walker are the central texts. These works look to the river and find racial history within its current, evoking varied responses surrounding memory, trauma, creative expression, and recontextualisation. The final chapter explores William S. Burroughs’s 1987 novel The Western Lands and the work of Minnie Bruce Pratt. By “queering nature,” the river becomes both a bitter reminder of their marginalisation and a hopeful symbol of utopia and unity. Together, these texts and the rivers they represent demonstrate the disjuncture between the privileged and marginalised in America, calling for greater consideration of what we deem “American” and why.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Jackson, Anna