Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


John R. Sweney

Second Advisor

Douglas Archibald

Third Advisor

George Maier


This paper is a comparative study of four modern American Avant-garde novelists: Henry Miller, John Hawkes, William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon, with additional references to several other postwar experimental authors. Initially, the objective my research was to establish whether or not there was a common perspective or vision expressed in all the works considered. Once sufficiently confident there was a common ground, I set about in this paper to discuss and contrast each author's individual artistic technique and social commentary. Because the novel is an aesthetic creation, each author is consciously trying to produce a unique-literary form to express his vision. Thus, there was a variety of innovation and experimentation as authors attempted to synthesize a medium to capture the flux of the modern age. Indeed, I found the novel underwent several major technical changes, discussed in the introduction. Nonetheless, we still encounter a variety of forms, as each author creates his own literary form and technique. Henry Miller we found utilizes a realistic autobiographical narrative; John Hawkes' form relies primarily upon the medium of fantasy, and Gaddis' on the novel's traditional realistic narrative modified to convey a sense of chaos rather than order. As for Pynchon, he seems to blend a variety of novelistic devices and forms for the most richly textured modern navels. At once, it becan1e obvious, because of such a diversity of expression I would need my own comparative metaphors to discuss and illustrate the variation upon common themes. The first metaphor I was the social dynamo, an adaptation of Henry Adams' concept of the dynamo as the most repressive and awesome symbol of force in modern man's life. In the 20th century it seemed the perfect symbol to describe these authors' shared vision of modern society. The discussion of the dynamo constitutes the first section of this thesis. The dynamo is an image that presents us with a dehumanizing picture of society. In all the works considered there was an obvious sense of social decay and personal anxiety caused by the parasitic relationship of society upon man. The second metaphor, the personal void, is a means of discussing the result upon the individual of the social dynamo. In the fictional worlds encountered, the personal void, or the increasing absence of humanistic characteristics in man's life, was a dominant and recurring theme. Uniformly, the authors related a despairing sense of creeping mechanization, distraction and isolation in our lives; this study forms the second major part of my thesis. In all, I found a rich variety of aesthetic expressions of a shared social vision. Though each author utilized his own form, and at times stressed different facets of the same social inadequacies, one could not fail to recognize the common sense of desperation because of the disintegration of our modern technological culture, and our own personal lives.


Avant-grade novelists, Henry Miller, John Hawkes, William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon


Full-text download restricted to Colby College campus only.