Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only



First Advisor

Claire Bracken




Deconstruction Theory, Romanticism, Modernism


I explore the source of readerly pleasure in the taboo text using post-structuralist theory and literary criticism. Literature is a medium which presses the boundaries of social taboo. When this occurs, how does the author write taboo content in a manner that does not revolt the reader? Taboo themes may be varied and subject to changing preferences, so to focus my project, I define the "taboo text" as one that interacts directly with the incest prohibition, a kind of universal taboo. I argue that, because of its rare position as a universal prohibition, the incestuous text does not respond to the same thematic oppositions which normally supply the reader with a sense of pleasure. I demonstrate two possible remedies for this and apply these theories across three texts. The first is Lord Byron's Manfred which, in lieu of thematic resolution, provides pleasure to its reader using vigorously structured and poetic language to contrast the taboo subject. I then discuss what occurs in the incestuous text when it is compounded with experimental language, itself a kind of taboo which alters existing linguistic structures and meaning. William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury embodies these qualities, and I construct a new theory for how the chaos of the text is meaningfully resolved so that pleasure is restored to its reader. I build this theory at the intersection of Roland Barthes's The Pleasure of the Text, Julia Kristeva's Desire in Language, Jacques Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," and Gilles Deleuze's Felix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. The third and final text is Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which utilizes this latter theory, while also challenging conventions which Faulkner, despite his experimentalism, still operated under. Ellison's text also places the taboo in a different position within the narrative, and thus alters the nature of its resolvability.

Available for download on Monday, June 30, 2025



Rights Statement

In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted.