This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

"Until the Thousand and First Generation": Generational Consciousness in the Contemporary Novel




Spence, Gavin

Type of Degree





Generations, by their nature, stand at the crossroads of broad, collective experience (dividing national history into distinct decades) and personal experience (separating an entire lifespan into life phases). More than merely a commonplace phenomenon, each successive generation offers a dynamic structure that connects self to other, family to nation-state, and collective experience to historical time. This study examines the role that generations play in four contemporary novels and one novella: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Hema and Kaushik, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Despite evident stylistic and structural differences, each work foregrounds generational members who confront profound crises of historical disruption and existential dislocation. Collectively, these works are cast against the backdrop of three national contexts shaped by the legacies of post-imperialism—America, England, and India—all of which have endured profound demographic changes from within and without their established borders. This requires a closer consideration of the particular communities out of which authors emerge and the specific issues of cultural conflict and adaptation that these authors address in their works. The overarching scope of this study reflects an archetypal pattern that structures generations according to four dominant tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. In each chapter, I reconfigure these tropes in terms of generational consciousness according to the following four areas: representational perspective (metaphor), allegory (metonymy), intentionality (synecdoche), and objectification (irony).