Bollini, Chris Thompson
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Commenting on the literary trope of loneliness that can spark action or epiphany, Robert A. Ferguson accounts for the many “fables” in America about the “solitary adventurer and its social variant, the self-made man,” by suggesting individualism can be the “answer as well as the problem to feeling alone.” This dissertation explores a similar paradox: how can an intense self-interest, aloof to the struggles of others, become the answer as well as the problem to feeling disempowered? In a certain strain of American literature from the Great Depression through the early post-war period, depictions of the aloof and brooding male protagonist ironicize as much as they romanticize the angst of ensuring one’s integrity within a chaotic world. The irony exposed in such texts inevitably becomes layered and multivalent because the presence of a loner-protagonist creates a schism between external reality and his troubled, obsessive mindset. As this study argues, the loner-protagonist may stubbornly fantasize about opting out of society and seeking confirmation of his exceptional status, yet he can only test this sense of the world by deconstructing his preferred state of apartness, surveillance, and hypervigilance. Despite being tormented by his concessions to normativity as he enters the crucible of social life, the loner-protagonist capitalizes on the promise of control inherent in white privilege, or what this project conceptualizes as the masked persona of uncanny whiteness. By exposing the performative undercurrents to an otherwise austere and seemingly unknowable archetype, Dark Lonerism encompasses both a healthy skepticism of the loner-protagonist’s self-isolating pose and a sympathetic interrogation of the pathological psychology underlying his many acts of self-sabotage.