Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




One of the great ironies of the "ethical turn" that literary criticism has taken in the last several decades is that while we as literary critics strive to be ethical or moral, we usually feel embarrassed at actually taking about moral concepts, especially as they are manifested in literary texts. As I am interested in how to discuss moral issues depicted in literary texts without reading them naively and reductively for guidelines to live by or for a social program to implement, my dissertation is designed to model a method of inquiry that approaches literary texts of the twentieth century as "moral fiction," i.e., as explorations of the moral enabled through deployment of form, narrative methods, rhetorical and linguistic devices, and literary techniques. My method is to select texts in which particular thematic moral issues appear especially salient, but then, through a careful rhetorical and narratological analysis of the texts' specific literary techniques, devices and narrative strategies, to focus on how the texts handle the issues aesthetically, structurally, and rhetorically.

What I call "moral fiction" is fiction that confronts and engages moral issues, dilemmas, and questions but that resists overt moralizing through the use of distinctive narrative strategies and literary techniques. The most interesting "moral fiction," I argue, integrates aesthetic complexity with moral responsibility and confronts moral complexity with aesthetic responsibility.

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