Date of Graduation

Summer 2015


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Michael Czyzniejewski


absurdity, agency, control, existentialism, freedom, rage, scapegoat, violence

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


This collection of six short fiction stories explores the confrontation between the human aspiration for control and the absurdity of the universe. This exploration takes the form of a cyclical journey in the human mind from recognition of limited agency, to accumulation of frustration and rage, to development and expression of an impulse for violence, which leads back to limited agency for the scapegoated target of this violence. I use the theories of existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus to construct stories that put characters in conflict with the inherent meaninglessness of existence and to investigate these characters' various reactions to these unsolvable situations. Several stories show that violence can be the output of this conflict because of the human tendency to employ what Kenneth Burke calls the "scapegoat mechanism” to blame their frustrations on bodily, assailable forms. By violently acting against these scapegoats, the characters in these stories not only feel a sense of victory against the uncontrollable sources of frustration, they also feel they have reclaimed their agency by expressing their freedom to do the unexpected. Ultimately, these stories provide a cautionary map of the path to destructive action.


© Dane Christopher Lale

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