Melodramas of Identity: James Purdy in the American Context

Looi van Kessel | Leiden University | Melodramas of Identity: James Purdy in the American Context | Supervisors: Ernst van Alphen en Johanna Kardux | 2015-2019

In this dissertation I scrutinize the novels, short stories and plays of the American author James Purdy, written between 1956 and 1967. Writing during the Cold War in which identity politics became increasingly important to discussions about American citizenship, Purdy shows in his work how these identities are always constructed through narrative procedures. In my analysis I look closely at the different figures of reading and writing that are thematized in Purdy’s work, and I interpret these figures through the lens of melodrama. Following Thomas Elsaesser and Jonathan Goldberg, I use melodrama as an interpretative and methodological tool which suspends unresolved tensions in the narrative. By focusing on these suspended tensions, I am able to explore the ways in which Purdy imagines the complex interaction between narrated identities and the national symbolic.