Ancestral Narratives in History and Fiction: Transforming Identities

Author: Chad Sean Habel

Habel, Chad Sean, 2006 Ancestral Narratives in History and Fiction: Transforming Identities, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis is an exploration of ancestral narratives in the fiction of Thomas Keneally and Christopher Koch. Initially, ancestry in literature creates an historical relationship which articulates the link between the past and the present. In this sense ancestry functions as a type of cultural memory where various issues of inheritance can be negotiated. However, the real value of ancestral narratives lies in their power to aid in the construction of both personal and communal identities. They have the potential to transform these identities, to transgress “natural” boundaries and to reshape conventional identities in the light of historical experience. For Keneally, ancestral narratives depict national forbears who “narrate the nation” into being. His earlier fictions present ancestors of the nation within a mythic and symbolic framework to outline Australian national identity. This identity is static, oppositional, and characterized by the delineation of boundaries which set nations apart from one another. However, Keneally’s more recent work transforms this conventional construction of national identity. It depicts an Irish-Australian diasporic identity which is hyphenated and transgressive: it transcends the conventional notion of nations as separate entities pitted against one another. In this way Keneally’s ancestral narratives enact the potential for transforming identity through ancestral narrative. On the other hand, Koch’s work is primarily concerned with the intergenerational trauma causes by losing or forgetting one’s ancestral narrative. His novels are concerned with male gender identity and the fragmentation which characterizes a self-destructive idea of maleness. While Keneally’s characters recover their lost ancestries in an effort to reshape their idea of what it is to be Australian, Koch’s main protagonist lives in ignorance of his ancestor’s life. He is thus unable to take the opportunity to transform his masculinity due to the pervasive cultural amnesia surrounding his family history and its role in Tasmania’s past. While Keneally and Koch depict different outcomes in their fictional ancestral narratives they are both deeply concerned with the potential to transform national and gender identities through ancestry.

Keywords: Chad Sean Habel,Flinders University,Robert Phiddian,Richard Hosking,John McLaren,Peter Pierce,ancestry,ancestral,ancestors,genealogy,genealogical,literature,cultural memory,amnesia,history,social history,family history,historical fiction,adventure fiction,Australian Studies,Cultural Studies,fiction,novels,historical novels,Australia,Ireland,Irish-Australian,migration,diaspora,roots,rhizomes,Thomas Keneally,Bring Larks and Heroes,The Playmaker,Bettany's Book,Schindler's Ark,Our Republic,Homebush Boy,Christopher Koch,Out of Ireland,Highways to a War,Boys in the Island,Crossing the Gap,The Doubleman,Across the Sea Wall,The Many-Coloured Land: A Return to Ireland,convicts,Tasmania,the Stain,identity,identification,nation,nationalism,national identity,gender,gender identity,masculinity,male,male-ness,transformation,reconciliation,post-colonial,post-colonialism,anti-colonial,literary criticism

Subject: English thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2006
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Robert Phiddian