Allegory in America: From Puritanism to Postmodernism by Deborah L. Madsen (auth.)

By Deborah L. Madsen (auth.)

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Extra resources for Allegory in America: From Puritanism to Postmodernism

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The turn from literal to figurative references unsettles the listener and creates a semantic ambiguity which can be exploited by a gifted orator. Clarity of meaning is purchased at the expense of belief. It is a metaphoric mechanism by which this 'turn' is achieved, in Kibbey's account. Yet in the instances she gives, the crucial shift is in fact a typologically directed move from part to whole. With great skill Cotton slots the individual experiences of his audience into a transcendent scheme of national salvation which gives those experiences direction and significance.

An example of this thematization of typological interpretation, in a fully-fledged literary work, is offered by William Langland's medieval poem, Piers Plowman. In this narrative, the plot is motivated by the protagonist's quest for 'Dowel'. In his search, Will has recourse to a number of potential advisers and guides - Wit, Clergy, Dame Studie - but they all prove inadequate to his purposes. For none of them inform him that Dowel is neither a person nor a thing but a verb, to Do-wel. The active nature of Dowel becomes apparent only when the narrative appeals to the anterior text of Scripture through characters such as Haukyn, Piers and Abraham, who possess explicit biblical significances.

Where the emphasis upon the Christological dimension of Scripture found in patristic exegesis led early typological narratives to rely upon the reader's faith in the authority of the biblical text, the emphasis upon the individual authority of the redeemed soul leads Protestant allegory to depend even more upon the reader's faith. As I commented above, this reliance upon faith leads to a fundamental arbitrariness in the production of narrative meaning. For in the absence of this necessary faith, the allegorical narrative is seen to bring together signs and significances that do not inherently and necessarily belong together.

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