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Race, Language, and Morality: Does Tolkien's Middle-earth Promote a Racial Myth?

Farrell, Eliza C (2009) Race, Language, and Morality: Does Tolkien's Middle-earth Promote a Racial Myth? Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Why has popular culture, right-wing political groups, and numerous editorialists assumed that J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth promotes a racialized universe? Did Tolkien, by situating his various characters as "races," indicate that within Middle-earth he had created an essentialized structure of difference between peoples? Decoding the ideology of Tolkien's Middle-earth is the work of this paper, and untangling this discourse will supply us with an understanding of the impact and importance of race as it resonates with readers. This paper treats the literary landscape of Middle-earth as analytical space, and this literary analysis is informed by anthropological concepts and methods complimented by the context of Tolkien's historical moment. Discovering these ethnographic representations of the various humanoid characters in Middle-earth allows me to establish the degree to which these depictions contribute to a racialized and racist understanding of Middle-earth. As the greatest impact of Tolkien's work has resulted predominantly from the popularity of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, these are the texts used to question Tolkien's racial message. Tolkien did not ostensibly implant in Middle-earth a racist microcosm of the world. Through close readings, this paper reads the hierarchical structure of Middle-earth as a dialogic space, where even as Tolkien uses racial generalizations he undercuts these assumptions through the plasticity of his characters and their interactions. Middle-earth's characters dialogize such racial issues as miscegenation, literary representations of "blackness," colonization, and pluralism as its actors explore the tensions inherent in these issues. Thus, while initially Tolkien seems to engage "race" only as a descriptive tool, he does not freeze these descriptions of difference. Rather, Tolkien uses his characters' own flawed racial assumptions to highlight the illogicity of such conjectures. By providing a dialogic racial space, Middle-earth is especially valid for demonstrating the work needed for understanding and respecting cultural difference.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Farrell, Eliza Cecf11@pitt.eduECF11
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcEwan-Fujita, Emilyemcewan@pitt.eduEMCEWAN
Committee MemberMurray Twyning, Amyarmst29@pitt.eduARMST29
Committee MemberHagerty, Bernardkazuo@pitt.eduKAZUO
Committee MemberJohnson,
Date: 18 May 2009
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 17 April 2009
Approval Date: 18 May 2009
Submission Date: 6 May 2009
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: anthropology; bigotry; black; Boas; colonization; dwarves; elves; ethnography; Fellowship of the Ring; Fichte; half-elven; Herder; history; hobbits; ideology; inequalities; language; Lord of the Rings; mediation; men; Middle-earth; miscegenation; mythopoeic; orcs; Other; prejudice; problematize; race; racial analysis; racial generalization; racism; racist; Return of the King; Silmarillion; Tolkien; translation; Two Towers; blackness; culture; racialism; racial myth; hierarchy; pluralism
Other ID:, etd-05062009-002112
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:43
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:43


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