Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Anthony Bryant Mangum

Second Advisor

Richard Fine

Third Advisor

Jason Coats


This thesis examines the use of frame tales, genre blending, multi-voiced narration, and circular structure in John Barth’s 1987 novel, The Tidewater Tales. It tracks the isomorphy of Barth’s general aesthetic project, set forth in his essays, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” “The Literature of Replenishment,” and “Very Like an Elephant: Reality Versus Realism,” onto the theoretical aesthetics of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. Both Barth and Bakhtin praise the novel its omnivorous capability to accommodate, and juxtaposes conflicting genres against one another; they each see the novelist as an “arranger” or “orchestrator,” who reassembles pre-existing forms to make them “sound in new ways.” Using Bakhtin’s concepts of novelness, heteroglossia, and unfinalizability this essay works to present The Tidewater Tales as an active embodiment of the Bakhtinian worldview, which locates truth and knowledge in dialogue between two subjects. By aligning Barth’s novel with Bakhtin’s philosophy, which emphasizes intersubjective dependence between the I and the other, this essay seeks to work as a corrective rehabilitation of Barth’s writing, which has been maligned as solipsistic self-consciousness by critics such as John Gardner, Christopher Lasch, and David Foster Wallace.


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