English, Department of


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Presley, Lydia R. "Dreaming Free From the Chains: Teaching the Rhetorical Sovereignty of Gerald Vizenor through Bearheart.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Thomas Gannon. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2016

Copyright © 2016 Lydia R. Presley


The purpose of this thesis is to examine Gerald Vizenor’s novel Bearheart, through the lens of rhetorical sovereignty. What this means is that the crux of my understanding of Bearheart begins with the knowledge that the language, terminology, and style used by Vizenor are not only his choices, but also his inherent Native right to use. I argue that it is important to teach Vizenor’s theoretical ideas through Bearheart because each of its relatively short episodes, or series of episodes, deals with a key theoretical idea that can be explored not only in a Native American literature setting, but in a variety of literature classrooms. Vizenor’s writing uses what Kimberly Blaeser calls a “rhetoric of process,” which allows Vizenor to educate his audience by using his characters as teachers and modelers. I point out moments where this process takes place, as Vizenor guides his readers through his difficult theoretical concepts. I even argue that, in denying Vizenor a place in the classroom, we participate in silencing the rich cultural hybridity of his language. By shifting the lens away from the conventional trickster critical readings and looking at Vizenor’s text through the lens of rhetorical sovereignty, this essay uncovers a wealth of critical commentary on the most pressing ecological and social crises of today. The first part of this thesis makes the argument for teaching Vizenor and Bearheart. In the second part of the thesis, I examine sections of Bearheart using Rob Nixon’s theory of “slow violence” as one example of the ways in which the novel can be taught outside of the Native American literature classroom.

Advisor: Thomas Gannon