The following is a list of Folklore dissertations completed at UL Lafayette. The abstracts are organized chronologically, and include the author's name, date of graduation, title of dissertation, and committee members.

Click here to return to UL Folklore Students page.

Click here to read about UL Folklore Theses.

 

 

Mary Eden Minor, 1995: The Folklore of Mass-Mediated Celebration: Audience Participation at the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. John Fiero, and Dr. James Cox.

This neo-ethnographic study concerns the twenty-year history and folklore of a group established in response to the "cult classic" film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rather than the bizarre misfits often portrayed by the popular press, these individuals display normal social yearnings. As a group, they resist cultural pressures in an attempt to establish autonomy through a recurrent, festive form.

As a tribute to the ingenuity and creativity of the human spirit to invent interactive processes which serve as vehicles for celebration and communitas, this study demonstrates how a mass-mediated film has inspired the legendary weekly celebration, complete with tradition, ritual, and symbolic resonance. As a unique festive form, it is predictable and socially gratifying.

The significance of this study is two-fold. First, the audience reaction to The Rocky Horror Picture Show establishes a milestone in "interactive media." The second significance of this study is ethnographic. Regardless of the scholar, modern social trends are generally assessed as negative as we near the end of the millennium. While this study does not deny negative social influences, it does report on an equally pervasive instinct for celebration and positive interaction between individuals in spite of all that might thwart them.

Chapter One presents the concept of ritual. Chapter Two places The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the category of "secular ritual." Chapter Three examines various methods and terms relevant to this study. Chapter Four demonstrates the evolution of the film's reception, emphasizing the shift from the film to the audience participation. Chapter Five discusses celebration and diverse festive, dramatic, and performance genres. Chapter Six presents Rocky Horror fieldwork done over the course of five years. Chapter Seven demonstrates the influence of television and film on modern culture. Chapter Eight establishes that The Rocky Horror Picture Show's twenty-year tradition persists as a unique recurrent form of festive celebration.

Stephen Edward Criswell, 1997: Folklore and The Folk in Derek Walcott's Omeros and Edward Kamau Brathwaite's The Arrivants.
Dissertation Director: Dr. M. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Darrell Bourque, and Dr. Patricia Sawin.

While critics have long noted the importance of Caribbean folklore in the works of Derek Walcott and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, no extended study of the poets' use of folklore and their approach to Caribbean folk culture has been undertaken. This dissertation attempts to begin this task, using one representative text from each poet--for Brathwaite, The Arrivants; for Walcott, Omeros. At the core of both works is a search for West Indian identity. Drawing on the poets' own commentary, the work of postcolonial theorists, and other studies of folklore in literature, my study reveals that both Brathwaite and Walcott identify the folk culture of the Caribbean as the source of the West Indian's unique cultural and political identity.

The first half of this study examines the various definitions of the "folk" offered by folklorists and cultural critics, with particular emphasis given to definitions of the folk in the postcolonial context and concludes with the assertion that both Walcott and Brathwaite define the folk of the Caribbean as the rural and urban peasantry and believe that this folk culture offers the West Indian middle class a creole identity that transcends the European/African (Black/White) dichotomy.

The second half examines Walcott's and Brathwaite's treatment of the Caribbean folk's expression of their identity through various forms, particularly folk speech, dialect, religion, ritual, and festival. Each form of folk expression embodies the identity of the folk and reveals their tenacity and their creative response to a history of oppression and exploitation. Walcott and Brathwaite both offer this history of survival and creativity as the true legacy of the West Indian.

J. Gary Elliott, 1997: Outlaw Heroes and Poetic Persona in Rock and Roll Lyrics: The Life and Times of Johnny B. Goode.
Dissertation director: Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet. Committee: Dr. Marcia Gaudet, Dr. Joseph Andriano, and Burton Raffel.

This dissertation investigates heroic persona in the lyrics of rock and roll music. Rock and roll songs have reached a vast audience and, more importantly, have reached them in a deeply personal way. Since its inception, people, young and old, have acted the way rock and roll sounds, have constructed value and belief systems guided by rock and roll images. A certain heroic persona is, and has always been, at the center of this image.

This study focuses on one Johnny B. Goode, the hero of Chuck Berry's well-known song. Central to the rock and roll mythos, Johnny's story has been lived out both on stages around the world and in our imaginations. He embodies our hopes and dreams, the ideal of rags-to-riches, the relationship between the , marginalized and the mainstream, and the possibilities of success within that relationship. Johnny is young, spirited, talented, and defiant toward the limits to which he is born; in the tradition of America's greatest folk heroes, Johnny is solitary, self sufficient, and essentially free. He has inspired a large and varied cycle of songs that invoke his spirit and reinterpret his story for modern times. These songs provide various possible endings, for Johnny is a hero of potential. We never know just what happens to him once he gets to the bright lights. So we willingly follow him on his journey, a journey we recognize as our own. In trying to discover Johnny's true destination, what his journey means, we also discover our own destination, the meaning of our own journey.

In Johnny B. Goode, we recognize both ourselves and the world in which we live. Susanne Langer claims that music "is our myth of the inner self"; Joseph Campbell claims that myths "are telling us in picture language of powers of the psyche." A song combines the two, the language of tone, symbolic of feeling, and the language of words, symbolic of ideals. In a good song, the two come together in a powerful unity in which we recognize our ideal selves. This study is about that essential recognition.

Carmine David Palumbo, 1997: Folklore and Literature: The Poetry and Fiction of Fred Chappell.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Joseph Andriano, and Dr. Darrell Bourque.

This dissertation is divided into two parts. Part I consists of four chapters which consider Chappell's major works of poetry and fiction in terms of folk themes. These four chapters present a somewhat chronological survey of the folklore of Chappell's canon, from his first novel, It Is Time, Lord (1963) to his most recent, Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You (1996). There is also a chapter devoted his poetry, specifically his critically acclaimed tetralogy Midquest (1981).

The first chapter, "Folklore, Isolation, and the Ambiguity of 'Truth' in It Is Time, Lord and 'Cleaning the Well,'" deals with themes that are present in Chappell's earliest published works. Specifically, this chapter looks at the first novel, It Is Time, Lord, and the poem "Cleaning the Well." Both of these works emphasize departure from a folk community. They are examples of the way folk themes are approached in Chappell's early works and how they dovetail with themes like isolation and the ambiguity of truth.

The second chapter, "Teaching, Tradition, and Performance in the Major Fiction," uses the most recent novel Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You, as a starting place to consider teaching as a theme and a method in Chappell's fiction, although poetry is mentioned as well. The critical method of this chapter is a consideration of teaching in Chappell's works in terms of "folkloristic performance." The third chapter, "The Folklore and Literature of Dagon," attempts to untangle the folk and literary influences which combined contribute to the mystique of Chappell's H. P. Lovecraft-ian novella Dagon. The fourth chapter, "The Quilt work of Midquest," examines Chappell's four part collection of poetry in terms its use of the sampler quilt form.

Part II of the dissertation consists of four interviews which were done with the author on the fifth, sixth, and seventh of June, 1995. The fourth of these is "Interview with Susan Chappell," a brief interview with Chappell and his wife. A fairly lengthy introduction to the interviews begins Part II. This section is written in first person. It details my relationship with Chappell from when I was a student in his class to when I recently interviewed him. I allowed myself this space to describe exactly how I know Chappell and how I discovered the subject and method of this dissertation.

Donna McGee Onebane, 1999: Voices of Pointe Noire: A Study of Place and Identity.
Dissertation Co-directors: Dr. Marcia Gaudet and Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet. Committee: Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, and Dr. Darrell Bourque.

This study of place focuses on a micro-region within Cajun culture in southwest Louisiana known as Pointe Noire which has a fascinating history that includes notorious bandits and murderers, renowned Cajun musicians, and even a candidate for sainthood. Its purpose is not only to mine the rich memories in order to preserve them, not only to uncover the distinctiveness of this micro-region, but in a sense, to create place.

This dissertation joins the work of Lynwood Montell, Henry Glassie, and others who have examined small communities in order to understand the larger culture. Its greatest value is in the use of reciprocal ethnography and extensive transcriptions which permit the folk of Pointe Noire to tell their own story, and to reveal what those stories mean to them.

The organization moves from general theoretical considerations which set the background for a study of place, and then proceeds to the three elements intrinsic in any definition of place: history, geography, and people. Chapter one examines in greater detail the concepts of sense of place and invisible landscape.

Chapter two examines the role history played in the identity of Pointe Noire. It is an ethnohistory beginning in the eighteenth century, and its focus is on how group consciousness is formed and maintained through time and in response to various historical and cultural forces.

Chapter three analyzes the role geography played in the maintenance of the traditional culture of Pointe Noire. A close examination of boundaries reveals that these are mental constructs which differ from person to person. This chapter -also examines the effects of physical isolation which led to an extreme self-sufficiency maintained through independence, interdependence, and ingenuity of the stalwart-folk who --inhabited this region.

Chapter four looks at the vernacular culture, the folk of. Pointe Noire, and the creativity and imagination exhibited in their forms of play: games, story, folk art, music, and celebration. This chapter also examines their religious beliefs, in particular, how these beliefs as manifested in the saint legend of a twelve-year-old girl named Charlene Richard reflect the most prized values of their culture.

Kenneth J. Bearden, 2000: Beyond Mere Stories: A Grandfather's Narratives and A Study in Performance.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Sherri Condon, Dr. John Laudun, and Dr. Patricia E. Sawin.

Interest in storytelling and personal narratives has flourished over the past couple of decades thanks in part to the work of such preeminent folklorists as Linda Degh, Richard Bauman, and Sandra Stahl. No longer are tales of personal experiences fringe folklore, studied only by those with an obscure interest. In fact, research into such narratives has become categorized according to whether the material is occupational, religious, gender-specific, region-specific, genre-related, or many other characteristics which nearly create sub-fields of narrative inquiry. Other fields such as history, sociology, and literary studies have taken up oral narratives as valuable resources as well.

Of particular interest in the study of storytelling and personal narratives are the relationships both share with other folklore forms and genres. Of increasing interest discipline-wide is hybrid folklore, forms and genres that cross boundaries and begin to defy or at least challenge "traditional" conventions and conceptions. The stories examined in the current study, the stories of a Texas grandfather and storyteller, are examples of just that. And the informant himself is an example of the performer who, while aware of those demarcations between genres and styles, nevertheless crosses over them repeatedly in his efforts to tell the stories he wants to tell.

The present study examines multiple factors involved in the collection and interpretation of the stories as well as the actual presentation of them. The familial relationship between the informant and the folklorist is of prime concern, and the first chapter is devoted to the exploration of this. The second chapter examines the blurring of conventional boundaries when it comes to notions of audience, genre, repertoires, and other performance concerns. A third chapter explores many of the stories in a more traditional manner, highlighting and tracing dominant themes and values. The fourth chapter focuses on a particular theme and how the use of one linguistic device -constructed dialogue-serves to enhance and intensify that theme. A conclusion pulls all of these concerns together and touches on the implications of such a common practice as storytelling.

Jack Holcomb, 2000: Playing Popular Culture: A Folkloristic Perspective on Role-Playing Games and Gamers.
Dissertation Director: Dr. M. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Joseph D. Andriano, Dr. Patricia E. Sawin, and Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet.

Since the mid-1970s role-playing games (RPGs) have become a significant part of the leisure repertoire of millions of Americans. These narrative games allow their players to create a sense of participation in items from the popular culture; this sense emulates the sense of communal re-creation, participation, and ownership created among performers of verbal art and their audiences in cultures with thriving primary oral traditions. Role-players achieve this sense of participation by recontextualizing popular genres and materials from movies, television, books, and comic books as games through a selective reading process and highly specialized rules. There are RPGs covering a wide variety of popular romantic source products and genres, and role-players have created a great many styles of play over the years, leading to a complex system of genres within the gaming community. Role-playing in action is a verbal, performative art, supported by several roles: the players (who create and enact characters within the game), the game master (who prepares and performs the worlds through which the characters journey), and the designer (who constructs the framework for game performance by creating rules and settings).

Since the early 1990s, when women began to enter this historically male hobby in large numbers, role-players have become more self-conscious about the narrative nature of RPGs. In conjunction with this sense that RPGs are devices for storytelling, some gainers have developed the sense that their games can be powerful social instruments; this sense is perhaps buttressed by the marginal image gainers have in the eyes of many. Gainers are often perceived as nerds, psychologically unstable people, and even Satanists. Whatever socially transformative power RPGs might possess, however, tends to be subverted by their reliance on source products that reinforce the dominant cultural order, as well as by qualities of the games themselves. The most significant impact these games seem to currently have is in the development of shared authority, collaborative imagination, and cooperative action within individual gaming groups, and perhaps also within the gaming community as a whole.

Charles Keagan LeJeune, 2001: Talking at the Backdoor: The Legend of Leather Britches Smith as a Representation of the Folklife and Folklore in Louisiana's No Man's Land.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet, and Dr. Darrell Bourque.

In Merryville, a lumber town six miles from the Texas border that experienced one of the first union strikes in the United States, the legend of Leather Britches Smith-outlaw, fugitive from Texas, muscle brought in by the union--exists and provides merely one example of the lore being told at the backdoor. Fueled by oral accounts, town histories, pamphlets, and books, the dissertation concerns the Neutral strip and the culture of confrontation that exists in it, the outlaw legends that flourish, and the contemporary folklife that connects and reconnects these people to their land and history. Brought in by the union, the outlaw Leather Britches Smith increased the tensions between union and non-union members and perhaps expedited the eventual eruption of violence. Now, the outlaw embodies this struggle. Considering variants, emergence., geographical environment, economy, history. family sagas, place, and popular cultural myths, the work attempts to address the mind-set of the region through the legend of Leather Britches, who appears to be only one specific example of the outlaw legends present in Merryville and throughout this border region, No Man's Land. The work begins with the region's history, economy, and pattern of settlement that fuel the legend. In the interest of context, a general description of the locale follows. Next, through a conglomeration of different versions, the entire legend of Leather Britches Smith is presented. The following section analyzes the extent to which the legend fits the general characteristics of legend and the typical components of outlaw legends. Finally, the work considers how popular cultural myths, like manifest destiny, border identity, space, place, and other less tangible forces, have influenced the legend of Leather Britches, Merryville, and No Man's Land.

Laura Renée Westbrook, 2001: Common Roots: The Godchaux Family in Louisiana History, Literature, and Public Folklore.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, and Dr. Joseph Andriano.

This dissertation explores the connections between historical research, literary studies, and the presentation of resultant information through public folklore programming. The Godchaux family of New Orleans provides ample materials for such a study.

A writer who has had neither a wide influence nor a place in histories of American literature, Elma Godchaux was highly regarded in her own lifetime and associated with many of the most important writers of her day. In her lifetime Godchaux won a prestigious national literary award and several of her short stories were anthologized. Her work provides a valuable insider's perspective into plantation life in the post-Reconstruction era. Discarding conventions of "local color" in exploring her generation's "woman question," the growing "Negro question," the notion of social Darwinism, and psychological issues relating to fife in Louisiana's rural agrarian culture, Godchaux's naturalist style has its own artistic power.

The study of Godchaux's literature led to research into Godchaux's remarkable family. Godchaux's novel Stubborn Roots is based on the fives of Elma's grandfather Leon Godchaux, a Jewish immigrant who began as a backpack peddler and became a wealthy planter known as "Louisiana's Sugar King," and her father Edward Godchaux, who continued his father's philanthropy and work at Reserve Plantation. Further examination of the family revealed their importance to Louisiana's economic and artistic development. Elma's sister Lucille Godchaux Antony was a great supporter of those writers that gathered in the French Quarter in the first decades of the twentieth century, and their cousin Paul Godchaux, Jr., was one of the founders of the important "little magazine" the Double Dealer. Elma Godchaux's life and literature reveal that she fully took part in the southern literary renascence.

The first two chapters of this dissertation focus on Godchaux family history. The second two examine Elma Godchaux's short stories and novel, taking into account their heavy reliance on family lore and Louisiana history. The final chapters outline the history of the Godchaux family's primary plantation house, Reserve, and the implications of the Godchaux story and the house-the oldest extant plantation house in the lower Mississippi Valley--for public folklore programming.

Donna Gould, 2002: Mythic Dimensions in Personal Narratives: Women's Search for Meaning.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Darrell Bourque, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, and Dr. Angela Lyndon.

The text of this dissertation explores the interconnections between personal narratives and mythology. Personal narratives revealing mythic dimension shave the potential to become the central narrative influencing individuals' orientation and life choices. The primary question explored in this dissertation is: Where do women turn when their cultural myths not validate their reality, articulate their experiences, or comprehend the world in which they live?

Chapter 1 considers mythology on two levels: as a powerful force in an individual's life that provides a source of meaning, values, and truth and, also, as a political discourse that constructs cultures, determines genderized social roles, and empowers and sanctions the dominant authority. The texts used in this chapter incorporate the understanding of mythology as narratives that recognize the sacred in human experience (Eliade); with a structural analysis that locates the meaning of mythology in a pattern that demonstrates the way the mind processes thought, organizes chaos, and creates the world we live in (Levi-Strauss); and with an interconnection to the systematic organization and ordering of a society (Malinowski).

Chapter 2 proposes that the most powerful mythology of any culture--one that shapes an individual's identity and determines the relationship of power within a society--is ritualized during the rites of passage (van Gennep, V.Turner). Approaching ritual as a political discourse reveals that rituals not only serve to construct hierarchical statuses, legitimize authority, and create models for authentic living but, most importantly, they also provide opportunity to deconstruct and resist these political systems (Kertzer, Lincoln, Bell).

Chapter 3 suggests that personal narratives told by women posses mythic dimensions when they function to structure an individual's identity and position in society. Personal narratives that create new meaning and alternative interpretations of reality are capable of mediating the disjunction between cultural mythology and personal experience. This chapter examines contemporary theories of personal narratives based on the studies of Stahl, Kalcik, Yocum, and Harding. The significance and divergent contributions of each author are explored, especially as these thinkers re-envision the paradigmatic structure for personal narratives established by Labov and Waletzky.

Chapter 4 presents twelve interviews of women who have constructed personal myths with narratives other than the ones sanctioned by their culture or society. These interviews give voice to women from different cultural perspectives, sexual orientations and marital statuses. The women shared the events, people, or narratives that have grounded them in their orientation toward life and shaped their identities.

Chapter 5 establishes the connections between personal narratives and mythology by analyzing the themes that have been interwoven throughout the work and to articulate the mythic dimensions revealed in the personal narratives presented in Chapter 4. Weaving together the various threads of these stories creates a tapestry of women's experiences that serves as mythology and points toward a transformation of culture.

Jeanne Pitre Soileau, 2002: African American Children's Folklore: A Study in Games and Play.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. John Laudun, Dr. Sylvia Iskander, and Dr. Patricia Rickels.

The last third of the twentieth century was a time, like so many periods in history, of tremendous social and technological change. It was the era of integration in South Louisiana. Beginning in 1960, with the integration of New Orleans public schools, black and white children began exchanging play interactions on South Louisiana public school grounds. This is a study of a select body of African American schoolyard games and how they were shared, changed, preserved, or adapted into new play modes, as integration provided a new set of social interactions. The dissertation also shows that African American children's games functioned in many ways. They were a form of ephemeral artistic expression that conserved many elements from past folkloric verbal art presentations. At the same time African American children's folklore allowed for much individual innovation within certain boundaries of their culture's traditional strictures. African American children's play and verbal interactions had the function of (1) enabling them to fit into their social structure and (2) enabling them to assimilate, comment on, alter, or negotiate for themselves, aspects of their culture's folklore. The work begins with an overview of the history of children's folklore. Next it examines certain elements of boys' "matter"--"playing the dozens," telling jokes in a mixed racial and gender setting, and entertaining and overseeing a community church's baby-sitting group. The third section concerns girls' "matter"--playing jump-rope rhymes, ring games, and preserving schoolyard play space. Finally, the dissertation considers the effects of the media on African American children's play in New Orleans and other cities of South Louisiana. This final section analyzes the influences entering play from television situation comedies, movies, videos, popular music, and the martial arts.

Patricia M. Gaitely, 2003: The Folklore Factor: The Use and Impact of Folklore and Folklife in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux Novels.
Dissertation Director: Dr. Marcia Gaudet. Committee: Dr. Darrell Bourque, Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet, and Dr. Patricia Rickels.

Burke's use of folklore and folklife in his Robicheaux novels has given a glimpse of Cajun culture to a world of readers and, in many ways, he has gone beyond earlier literary attempts at depicting Cajuns. When Burke writes about Dave Robicheaux, he uses folklore and folklife to provide the extra ingredient that Cawelti states is essential in successful works of detective fiction. By including these elements, Burke provides his readers with a vivid impression of a culture which might be accurate and which might, at times, be misleading. He writes the Cajun culture in a certain way, and this has an impact on those who mad the books. Burke's Robicheaux is considered to be as much "Cajun" as he is "detective."

In situating his characters in a specific locale and culture, Burke has to use certain information that connotes that culture for his readers. In De Caro's words, he is obliged to include "signifying bits," but these can take over as the dominant image of the culture for the reader, especially if the books are only read superficially. Cultural nuances will tend to be overlooked by the majority of readers while stereotypes will stand out. The issue of violence in the novels can also be misunderstood if it is not read in the context of Southern violence.

Burke has brought the Cajun culture to a wide audience.. By making known some of the local customs, foodways, and landmarks he has helped to put Acadiana on the literary map. He has made advances in the ways in which he depicts Cajuns over some of his predecessors, but still tends towards stereotyping. Since Burke is writing detective fiction, his novels should not be read as folklore or ethnography. However, he does have some liability as a writer for how he portrays a culture, and some of his use of stereotyping can be seen as reinforcing negative impressions. This dissertation provides an analysis of Burke's fiction from within the context of Cajun culture and argues that Burke's use of Cajun folklife greatly enhances the appeal of his novels.

Document last revised March 8, 2004 .
Copyright © 2003 by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette