Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

David Moore

Commitee Members

Jill Bergman, Tobin Shearer


antebellum, ethics, metanarrative, rhetoric, semiology, violence, harper's ferry, john brown


University of Montana


On the evening of October 18th, 1859, it had become clear that John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia had not only fallen short of expectations—the beginning of a slave insurrection eventually leading to collapse of the institution entirely—but had dismally failed. The raid had cost seventeen lives, among them two of Brown’s sons. Not a single slave had been freed. The raid, however, had touched off something else. It had shaken, in important ways for both North and South, the ideological foundations of the slave system and, consequently, the political and economic systems of the nation that sanctioned it. Utilizing the ideas of Hayden White regarding the moralizing nature of narrative historiography, this project analyzes newspaper articles and literature published soon after the raid as they attempt to re-incorporate the events in question into a larger historical narrative. They do so via various ideological social codes, referred to in the project as metanarratives. My reading focuses on what is implied, assumed, and omitted. It is therefore semiological in nature, and utilizes a methodology of narrative analysis that borrows heavily from French theorist Roland Barthes. The project is an examination of the role or roles particular types of rhetoric can play in the production of historical and popular narrative.

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