Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 223 pages) : PDF file

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Branka Arsiæ

Committee Members

Ronald A Bosco, Helen R Elam


Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Self-Effacement, Sermon, Protestant churches, American literature

Subject Categories

American Literature


This dissertation focuses on how some of the major literary authors of nineteenth-century America attempt to speak through self-effacement by adopting the preaching styles and effects of early Protestant sermons, as well as their purposes for doing so. There is the evanescence of characters in Herman Melville's novels such as Moby-Dick (1851) and Pierre (1852), of the speaker in Emily Dickinson's poems, and of the narrator in Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854). In their works there is a certain type of abhorrence toward the self, and they constantly try to efface the individual's voice. Underlying their efforts to make the characters, the speaker, or the narrator undergo self-effacement, there is the belief that if these efforts are successful, then the words coming through the non-subjective voice may tell the truth. My argument in this project is that in order to grapple with their attempts to speak through self-effacement, these nineteenth-century authors adopt the sermonic voice of the preachers who are trying to efface their own voices to deliver the Word of God from the pulpits. Previous scholarship has understood the Protestant sermons as the ultimate model of many nineteenth-century literary works, but few scholars have pointed out which particular aspects of Melville, Dickinson, and Thoreau's literary experiments are connected to the homiletic discourses and what kinds of effects these connections generate. By tracing their voice constructions back to the early Protestant sermons, this project reinforces the authors' intentions to deliver the non-subjective voice and also makes it possible to bring these contemporary but distinct authors into a certain kind of kinship in relation to American literary tradition.