Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 4-18-2018


Hittle, Nathan. "Duality in Carnivàle: An Exploration of Light and Dark." Bachelor of Arts, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lincoln, Nebraska. 2018.


Copyright Nathan Hittle 2018


This paper explores themes of duality, subversion and humanity through a critical analysis of the first season of HBO’s Carnivàle. Production elements like costuming and lighting serve as key points of examination, as does the show’s writing through representation of various religious beliefs and faith in mystical, mythological forces, inspired by real-world ideologies yet unique to the world of Carnivàle. The three categories of costuming, lighting and religion demonstrate Carnivàle’s obsession with visual storytelling, apt for story told in a visual medium.

The analysis offered throughout this paper relies on an understanding of themes and motifs common in American film and television, as Carnivàle’s creators rely heavily on familiar tropes in order to subvert the expectations of its viewers. Carnivàle directly challenges assumptions such as, but not limited to: lawbreakers are evil, preachers are pure, sex workers are morally bereft, children who care for their parents are intrinsically good, a small stature makes for poor leadership, and more. Even in 2018, 15 years after Carnivàle’s premiere, these cultural prejudices are so ingrained they continue to serve creator Daniel Knauf’s desire to keep his viewers in a perpetual state of up-endedness. Considered as a single epic story, Carnivàle provides commentary on the multi-faceted and complicated nature of humanity by asking its viewers to reconsider everything they think they know