Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Dr. Jana Tigchelaar, CommitteeChairperson

Second Advisor

Dr. JillTreftz

Third Advisor

Professor Daniel O’Malley


This thesis will examine the American storytelling tradition, paying particular attention to American folktales and legends that arose as the nation expanded westward, such as the stories of Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Billy the Kid, etc. This text will utilize a lens of European narrative tradition (especially those which lent themselves to the written records of oral fairy tales and folktales) and trace the cultural significance and social purpose of these formative American stories. I will discuss the reasons why we so readily recognize the echoes of outside narrative traditions in American storytelling and the ethical implications of these narratives that, according to Hanna Meretoja’s critical examination of the ethics of storytelling “can promote exclusion that amounts to annihilation” (Meretoja 2017). Because stories are not just stories – they are the method by which social norms are communicated and internalized by the members of a given culture.

The sections of this manuscript will focus on various topics that perform this purpose of communicating norms and values – why and how do these get communicated through narratives? What does the shift from oral traditions to written literature have to say about the persistence of these stories? How do these stories shape the modern perception of history? What can be gleaned from the division of narrative tropes between the tragic female narrative and the heroic male narrative? And, most of all, how were these stories used not only to polish the edges away from a less than ideal past but also to look towards the future with rose-tinted lenses?


Folklore -- United States.

United States - Social life and customs.