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Repression and Realism in Postwar  American Literature 1945-1955

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This thesis focuses on the uncanny in literature produced in America during the first decade following World War II. The period between 1945 and 1955 was marked by repressive socio-political forces such as McCarthyism and cultural conformity which complicated the representation of what Philip Roth refers to as "demonic reality." I explore the ways in which the avoidance and minimisation of the unpleasant created a highly circumscribed version of postwar American life while also generating a sense of objectless anxiety. According to the theories of Sigmund Freud, repression inevitably stages a return registered as the "uncanny." Animism, magic, the omnipotence of thoughts, the castration complex, death, the double, madness, involuntary repetition compulsion, live burial and haunting are all deemed capable of provoking a particular anxiety connected to what lies beneath the surface of accepted reality. Although it is common to argue that fantasy genres such as science fiction and gothic represent the return of what is repressed, this thesis explores several realist novels displaying uncanny characteristics. The realist novels included here are uncanny not only because they depict weird automaton-like characters, haunting, and castration anxieties, thus exhibiting a conscious use of Freudian theory, but because the texts themselves act as the return of the repressed. Norman Mailer referred to this unsettling phenomenon when he described writing as the "spooky" art; spooky because although a writer might sit down to consciously write a particular story, another unwilled story might very well appear.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Ferrall, Charles; Jackson, Anna