Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts

First Advisor

Clark Davis

Second Advisor

Aleksandr Prigozhin

Third Advisor

Hilary A. Smith


Anxiety, Epidemics and literature, Influenza, Melancholia, Pandemic, Psychoanalysis and literature


This paper utilizes René Girard’s theories concerning plague literature to examine twentieth century pandemic novels’ engagement with mental health discourses surrounding anxiety and melancholia. Girard argues that plague literature consists of four main elements: contamination, dissipation of differences, doubles, and sacrifice; he also argues that the plague represents violence. In 1918, a plague of influenza killed more people in the United States than all the wars from the twentieth century combined. William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider depict the trauma caused by the 1918 pandemic; Maxwell shows how the 1918 influenza disrupted family dynamics, while Porter describes the psychological and bodily damage the flu causes. Both texts portray characters that experience anxiety and melancholy due to their suffering, illuminating Girard’s claim that the plague serves as a metaphor for psychological, familial, and social violence. Further examination of the authors’ experiences with the 1918 influenza shows that their fictional depiction of mental health deterioration derives from autobiographical experiences. This paper evaluates the role of memory as a spiritual tool that allows the authors to inform their fiction and possibly engage in psychotherapy. Lastly, this thesis considers the potentiality of modern readers finding comfort by identifying and empathizing with the characters’ and authors’ psychological, familial, and societal struggles during a pandemic.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Kristy R. Barraza


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

96 pgs


American literature, Mental health, Literature