Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Bryce Traister


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In this dissertation, I examine how the antipodal forces of insurgency and counterinsurgency are crucial to the articulation of citizenship and identity in antebellum American literature. I suggest that a coherent, self-contained American identity was maintained through acts of physical and discursive dismemberment that disciplined insurgent expressions of democracy and idealized in their stead an enervated, acquiescent body politic. My dissertation traces how a series of American writers confront the dynamic of insurgency and counterinsurgency in an effort to reconcile the nation’s revolutionary origin with its colonialist practices. I introduce my argument through a reading of Melville’s Benito Cereno before exploring in chapter one how the U.S. Constitution’s three-fifths clause functions as a form of discursive dismemberment in accounts of the Nat Turner slave revolt, the writing and speeches of Frederick Douglass, and abolitionist writing by William Lloyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau. In chapter two, I turn to Cherokee author John Rollin Ridge’s novel The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta to examine how the how the term “outlaw” enables the fiction of the United States as an “insurgent empire” and accommodates the violence of colonial incorporation. In chapter three, I posit that in Melville’s Moby-Dick, “rendering”—the dismembering and processing of whales—metaphorizes the suppression of a transnational body politic. Finally, in a brief conclusion, I read Melville’s Billy Budd as offering an insurgent practice of reading that resists the dismembering logic of U.S. citizenship.