Date of Award

Winter 1983

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation examines the nature and function of John Hawkes' comic method. Although most critics acknowledge that Hawkes writes comedy, very few of them agree on the moral nature of this comedy. Chapter I examines these differing responses to Hawkes' work and offers an alternative way of evaluating his humor, based on his own and other critics' comments on comedy. This chapter also suggests that our responses to Hawkes' humor occur on an uncertain terrain where two or more, sometimes opposite, reactions to a text clash, forcing us into continuous moments of indecision.

Chapter II deals with Hawkes' first novel, Charivari, which is important because in it we find Hawkes experimenting with comic techniques which he employs in later novels.

Chapter III explains how comic techniques in The Lime Twig trap us between our emotional, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic concerns for Michael and Margaret Banks and William Hencher. Comedy forces us to judge these characters' human failings, though we also sympathize with them and recognize our own faults in them.

Chapter IV discusses Skipper's contradictory nature in Second Skin, explaining how comic techniques make us question his attractive self-portrait and realize his responsibility for the tragic events in the novel.

Chapter V illustrates what happens to comedy in The Blood Oranges, Death, Sleep & the Traveler, and Travesty when we become less concerned with the comedy of character and action and more interested in the author behind the trilogy who is playing with language and form.

Chapter VI deals with The Passion Artist and Virginie: Her Two Lives. In Hawkes' most recent novels the nature and function of comedy is not always clear because Hawkes seems to treat seriously the same sexual attitudes and practices that he ridiculed in previous novels. This chapter ends by suggesting that Hawkes' comedy is maximized when, as in The Lime Twig and Second Skin, all of our concerns--emotional, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic--are played off each other, so that, as Hawkes himself says, we are challenged "to know ourselves better and to live with more compassion.".