Black witness: Avenging Angels, heroes & apostates

Date of Completion

January 2008


Literature, Modern|American Studies|Literature, American




This dissertation consists of a novel, This is Not the Place, and a forty-five-page essay, "Avenging Angels," that contextualizes it. In the essay, the first study to group Mormon writers together as a subset of American literature, I wanted to understand why violence is so prevalent in the work of Neil Labute, Brian Evenson, and Levi Peterson. What I found was that these authors are writing from within a Mormon tradition drenched in violence, a tradition rooted in both Mormon scripture and Mormon history. The common thread in their work (and mine) is the reappearance of the Mormon archetypal hero as created by Joseph Smith in 1830, a hero that proves his loyalty to God by performing ritualized murder—called blood atonement—on sinners, apostates, and Gentiles. In my novel, This is Not the Place, Pratt P. Snow is a writer who moves home to Utah from Brooklyn to help his mother take care of his father who is dying from neurologically degenerative Huntington's Disease. There he must confront the heritage he has tried to leave behind—both the Mormon religion and the fifty-fifty chance he has of inheriting the same disease. Ironically, while living in Brooklyn all he writes about is that heritage in The Polygamist Downstairs, a novel about his grandfather's passage into polygamy and murder. The Polygamist Downstairs puts Pratt Snow in the same tradition as Neil Labute, Brian Evenson and Levi Peterson, which makes This is Not the Place the first novel about a Mormon author writing in the literary tradition I document in my essay. ^