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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Illuminating the Fall: Negotiating Hubris and Hope in Representations of Radiation


This thesis examines depictions of nuclear technology in two contemporary novels, Ocean Roads by James George and Accident: A Day’s News by Christa Wolf, investigating in particular how the authors of these texts represent the cultural ramifications of the Cold War and of man-made radiation in the environment. It shows how the texts employ radiation as a trope representing a new outlook on global systems of ecology and also on the human body that has arisen since the dawn of the Atomic Age. Entering an ecocritical discussion on how the authors’ framing of ecocatastrophe as tragic or comic influences the overall message of the novels, it explores how they employ these genres to reveal humanity’s current relationship to its environment as problematic and to call for changes in that relationship. This thesis asserts that both novels invoke elements of tragedy in order to critique the overly rationalistic and dominating approach of science that can lead to unintended consequences, and they depict technological tragedy not as a single event but a phenomenon that unfolds over time. However, the novels also portray technology used for the comic purposes of restoration and survival to illustrate how the progression of technological tragedy can be interrupted.

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