The narrative turns on itself: form and meaning in Barth's fiction



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis investigates John Barth's esthetic concern with literary tradition, with the manipulation and exploration of the history of fictional forms as the potential origin of new and modern humorous fiction. For this novelist value lies in the act of artistic creation along with the recognition of the possibilities inherent in the literary past. In The Floating Opera (1955) and The End of the Road (1958) Barth begins to look for solutions to the dilemma of how to write fiction in the twentieth century. His assumption is that the forms of fiction are nearly exhausted. These early works introduce the problems of form and philosophy which lead to the manipulation of the fiction-making process in the later novels. With both The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and Giles Goat-Boy (1966), Barth takes traditional form and turns it upon itself. The Sot-Weed Factor exposes and explores the kind of traditional novel which began with Fielding in the eighteenth century, making the form the subject of fiction. Giles Goat-Boy explores the meaning of allegory in a world which must create correspondences and meaning through rather than discover pre-existing relationships. Chimera (1972) investigates the possibilities of creating new fiction by exploring old stories from an unfamiliar point of view. This study presents a detailed description of Barth's manipulation of literary history and technique to create his particular kind of solution to the question of how to create an up-to-date fiction in the five works cited.