Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




In this dissertation, I argue that violence is a consistent theme in contemporary (post-1945) fiction written by American Catholics, and that these authors employ violence as an aesthetic strategy that is best, and perhaps only, understood when approached through the philosophical and imaginative discourses of their Catholic faith. While the violence in contemporary fictions can be viewed as a product of the power dynamics at work in the modern age, I contend that these power dynamics are not a central concern for Catholic authors. Rather, in Catholic fiction, violence functions as a catalyst that leads characters toward a moment of insight or self-reflection, which is often tied to the notion of an existential encounter with the transcendent. The violence in this fiction is also an integral part of the aesthetic strategy employed by the author to shape the reader's experience of the work. Drawing on the literary theories of Paul Ricoeur and William Lynch, I demonstrate that Catholic authors use violence in order to unsettle their audience and force their readers to ask questions about the ontological nature of existence. In addition, I investigate the ways in which Vatican II altered the Catholic literary imagination; through an examination of fictions written before and after the council I demonstrate that as Catholic authors enact the `turn toward the world' depictions of faith within their fiction become increasingly ambiguous. Despite these ambiguities, contemporary Catholic literature continues to manifest a sacramental worldview that recognizes the challenges, and rewards, of a life of faith in a secular age. I discuss the work of Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Tim Gautreaux, Alice McDermott, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace, and Christopher Beha.

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