Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Wes Berry (Director), Dr. Sandra Hughes, Dr. Alison Langdon

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Victory Garden, Stuart Moulthrop’s 1991 classic hyperfiction, presents a nonlinear story of U. S. home front involvement in the First Gulf War in a way that facilitates confusion and mimics a "fog of war" sort of (un)awareness. Using Storyspace to build his complex narrative, Moulthrop incorporates poetry, fiction, historical references, and low-tech graphic novel type elements. Among the graphic components are all-black and all-white screens that function as variables. Overtly, these screens speak of closure and signify unconsciousness; however, their nonverbal role may also be linked to the ineffability trope as used by Dante Alighieri and re-interpreted by contemporary linguist Ruiging Liang. To date, critics and meta-readers have incorrectly assumed that the protagonist, Emily Runbird, becomes a fatality. By failing to read her life or death as undecidable, we deny the fiction its full power as a postmodern interpretive dilemma. This assumption plays into what might be posited as Moulthrop’s real thesis: syllogism in a corrupted (war time) information system is potentially tragic. A summary of theories and critical approaches relevant to the blank screen’s use as interstice together with sample engagements with relevant texts—reading Victory Garden, as per Wolfgang Iser’s phenomenological approach, Stanley Fish’s reader response theory, and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction—prove Victory Garden, to be a challenging but consistent literary breakdown (staged malfunction of reading habits). Ultimately, ineffability is shown to be a reading strategy and the action Aristotle characterizes as key to the definition of tragedy is seen as performed by the reader. Moulthrop dangles the question about Emily’s demise as a critical reading moment prone to corruption. The classical anagnorisis is not Emily’s; the revelation Moulthrop intends is reserved for the reader and is precipitated by the need to resolve aporia.


English Language and Literature | Modern Literature