Negotiating Subjectivity: Gender, Communication, and Narrative telos in the Odyssey

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“Negotiating Subjectivity: Gender, Communication, and Narrative telos in the Odyssey” investigates the relationship between gender and narrative structure in Homeric language. Textual and narrative inconsistencies provide a point of departure for examining how gender relations (i.e. patterns of communication between women and men) contribute to the narrative’s complication and resolution. By treating gender in the text as an impetus toward narrative change, this study reveals two alternating currents in Homeric language: first, how heroic male authorities establish boundaries between women and men to achieve a narrative outcome; and second, how male authority is problematized by the inconsistencies which leave such a teleological outcome in question. Illuminating these two trends as evidence for the relationship between gender and narrative, this dissertation advances the interpretation that the language of the Odyssey operates as a continuous re-negotiation of appropriate boundaries of propriety in communication between women and men.

Drawing on the writings of Lacan and Freud, I account for repetitive acts of female duplicity and heroic violence as complications to the aims of the narrative and the desires of its characters. With this approach, I observe an authoritative function in Homeric language that negotiates subjectivity by categorizing roles of women and men to establish a gender binary in the act of storytelling. By investigating this relationship between authoritative language and gender roles, I conclude that the anti-teleological elements which trouble the narrative outcome similarly vex the gender ideology established in the text: as the narrative resists completion, the repetitive re-negotiation of gender relations leaves the Homeric model for appropriate roles of women and men in doubt. Building on a series of readings in Homeric scholarship that argue for an overall transfer of female authority to male authority in the Odyssey narrative, my dissertation further demonstrates how the resistance of a teleological outcome exposes the epic’s ultimate failure to achieve an ideal of heroic male authority.





Barto, Mason Daniel (2024). Negotiating Subjectivity: Gender, Communication, and Narrative telos in the Odyssey. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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