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Title: Suicide, society, and crisis : reading representations of suicide in US novels from the Great Depression (1929-1941)
Author: Young, Angus Khanolkar
ISNI:       0000 0004 9358 1448
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis argues that, in American novels of the era of the Great Depression, suicide is characteristically represented as a paradoxical act which at once defies explanation yet reveals an urgent need for social reform. The thesis, by focusing on this characteristic paradox, draws on contemporary critical theories of suicide in literature while returning to Émile Durkheim’s pioneering understanding of suicide as a social act. On the one hand, I follow the work of Andrew Bennett and other literary scholars, showing how suicide in the context of the Great Depression novel is often depicted as an act which, in Bennett’s terms, “makes and unmakes meaning.” Yet I reflect on the creative (‘makes’) as well as the destructive (‘unmakes’) aspects of Bennett’s phrase, and I do so to call attention to the fact that suicide, in this body of work, takes place within a social context. In the shadow of rising suicide rates during the Great Depression, these novels bring focus to suicide as a particular social concern and highlight the sometimes baffling and sometimes enlightening effects suicide has on others. If suicide “breaks the frames that society relies upon to produce meaning,” as Margaret Higonnet has suggested, then I argue here that a similar combination of thwarted understanding and resurgent social critique is characteristic of the novels of William Faulkner, Wallace Thurman, John O’Hara, Horace McCoy, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Carson McCullers. The numerous suicides of interwar American literature will present to us throughout this thesis acts of uncertainty as well as social commentary, which in turn encourages a revision of the apparent impasse that suicide can pose to understanding. The treatment of suicide in these texts foregrounds and realises the possibility of reading this impasse, and the paradoxes of suicide, as a means of provoking and distilling complex, ongoing, and unsettled negotiations of social failings and social change.
Supervisor: Warnes, Andrew Sponsor: Leeds University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available