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Writing after the wreck: Post -modern ethics and spirituality in fictions by Walker Percy, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, and Leslie Marmon Silko

Johnny Ray Griffith, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation explores the ways in which four post-modern American novelists continue to use their fiction to address questions regarding the nature and place of ethics and spirituality in contemporary America in spite of the supposed "death" of history, man, and God. The four novels examined represent different ethico-spiritual traditions, which this dissertation seeks to engage in an open and fruitful dialogue. The introduction (Chapter I) traces the trajectory of Modernity, beginning with the Enlightenment's rejection of traditional modes of thought and the devastating effects of that rejection for moral theory, for human beings, and for the world they inhabit. The Modern world that resulted from that rejection forms the backdrop against which play out the dramas of the four novels. Chapter II explores, by way of Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman , Western man's tendency to abstract and alienate himself from the world around him in an attempt to transcend the messiness and uncertainty of the post-modern lifeworld. Chapter III focuses on Toni Morrison's Paradise in order to examine the effects of Modernity's emphases on order, hierarchy, and mastery and its tendency to produce rigid social and religious institutions incapable of adapting and adjusting to the rapidly changing circumstances of the post-modern lifeworld. Chapter IV delves into the chaotic world of E. L. Doctorow's City of God, which acknowledges the chaos and confusion of our contemporary milieu but views post-modernity as an opportunity to establish a new kind of ethics and spirituality more open to the continuing revelation of God in the post-modern urban lifeworld. Chapter V explores Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, which joins the other texts in critiquing Modernity and offers an all-inclusive vision of what we must do if we are to renew our communities and heal our world. The conclusion (Chapter VI) integrates the critiques of the four novels with the recent insights of contemporary moral philosophers and theologians in order to pose a starting point for living more serious, fecund, and worthy ethical and spiritual lives in an effort to renew and heal ourselves and, eventually, the world around us.

Subject Area

American literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Griffith, Johnny Ray, "Writing after the wreck: Post -modern ethics and spirituality in fictions by Walker Percy, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, and Leslie Marmon Silko" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216950.