Date of Graduation

Spring 2016


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Matthew Calihman


The Pale King, Heterocosmica, modern myth, ideology, heroism, civic responsibility

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


The purpose of this study is to analyze David Foster Wallace's novel The Pale King through the critical lenses of Lubomir Dolezel's Heterocosmica and Louis Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" to arrive at a theory of the heroic in the novel. The Pale King features multiple characters experiencing various crises in the face of an invisible, adversarial force that can be understood through Dolezel's modern myth formulation, in which an invisible domain oppresses characters. This study analyzes three themes of the novel in which this interaction is most observable: the religious, the supernatural, and the civic themes. Althusser's work is applied to argue that the invisible domain functions through an ideological mechanism. The thesis's last chapter arrives at a twofold theory of the heroic that both helps illuminate The Pale King's central characters and augments Dolezel's theory. The heroic characters of the novel follow one of two models: the mystical model – embodied by Shane Drinion – comprises being able to find meaning in meaningless work, rather like Sisyphus; the civic model – embodied by DeWitt Glendenning – entails adhering to the outmoded but noble convictions of civic responsibility despite inevitable downfall in the face of the invisible domain.


© Matthew Ryan Stewart

Open Access