Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Stephen Swords


My thesis examines the relationship between the temporal aspects of the language of the Hopi Indians, based on Benjamin Lee Whorf’s linguistic analyses, and postmodernist narrative theory. Within postmodernism itself, the study focuses on the narratives' handling of time and space, as illustrated by the following novels: Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson; Time's Arrow by Martin Amis; Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; and Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko.

The study investigates how these postmodernist novels experiment with the application of a timeless temporal scheme. This scheme originates from what I refer to as Benjamin Lee Whorf’s romantic notions of Hopi temporality. He claimed that this language is a "timeless" one, and its vision of temporality is characterized by an underlying metaphysics, rather than a tripartite grammatical division, as is the case with the Standard Average European languages. Besides the linguistic description of Hopi, a brief description of Hopi cosmology is included which sheds light on their view of the world, time and causality, which in turn have reference points in the novels I have chosen.

By applying the Whorfian time, these postmodernist narratives suggest answers to the following ontological questions, i.e. ones bearing on human existence:

• 1. How can the narrative handle the timeless existence of an individual, who, despite inhabiting our universe, could detach him- or herself from the fetters of the most fundamental and universal human experiences on this planet, i.e. the passage of TIME?

• 2. How would the narrative handle parallel universes within our universe? How could the relationship between the two be characterized in the linear written language?

• 3. How would the fictional universe governed by the Whorfian atemporality behave in contrast to our temporal universe?

• 4. Whorf claimed--and later he was partially justified in his claim by, among others, Voegelin, et al.--that the present and past formed a "oneness." How would that atemporal experience of time restructure the before and after for this (or these) individual(s)? In other words, what would happen to causality as we know it?

• 5. In light of the discussion of altered causality, how could history be redefined? How would the "oneness" of past and present influence, or alter, the narrative's handling of history, both documented and on the personal level?

The influence of the Whorfian hypothesis about the Hopi manifests itself explicitly in Winterson' s Sexing the Cherry, which contains references to Wharf's statements about Hopi in the epigraph as well as within the body of the text. The novel's structure, as a result, emulates a possible world which reflects the way of thinking induced by a "timeless" language and existence. Time's Arrow and Slaughterhouse-Five do not contain direct references to the Hopi or the Whorfian theories; however, they do display a manipulated and much altered flow of time, as well as deconstruction of space, and thereby raise the very issues that Sexing the Cherry does and which are the central piece of my study: "time," that is, human existence, is "one" (Sexing the Cherry 154). As a consequence, space is warped by deconstructed time flows, thus ceasing to be a point of reference; causality, as a result, becomes reversed or altogether revoked, since what happens becomes detached from time and becomes part of the "one" time. Almanac of the Dead, written by Leslie Marmon Silko, a native American, applies a narrative technique which is rooted in her Pueblo heritage and is best suited to her doomsday prophecy, "eco-feminist" political message and the use of the Whorfian romantic Hopi time.

For the postmodernist narrative theories I draw on the works of Brian McHale, Ihab Hassan and Linda Hutcheon as the main sources.