Department or Program

Comparative Literature

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Edward Silver

Additional Advisor(s)

Elizabeth Young


This thesis will attempt to demonstrate the merits of structuralist, text-focused analysis, as opposed to historicist models of hypothetical cross-cultural contact. This thesis will present three comparative case studies—hospitality narratives, flood narratives, and creation narratives—each of which will utilize a structuralist methodology. In each chapter, the structure of each version of the umbrella myth will be diagrammed in relation to each other. The diagrams are tabular, and schematize the individual narrative functions that comprise each umbrella myth-type in a highly abstracted form. This visualization allows the reader to clearly see the role each function plays within its respective narrative context, but also how it compares to other instances of the same function. Through the use of this structuralist approach two things become clear. The first being that although each of the episodes studied is familiar, and recognizable as an instantiation of the umbrella myth (i.e., hospitality, flood, or creation), close text-focused study has demonstrated that these iterations are actually quite different. The second discovery is that these differences are not at all random. The focused, tabular-based study of the mythic episodes reveals the manifold ways that different authors purposefully manipulated and organized narrative functions, the building blocks of myths. Each author’s alterations and patterning was influenced by external societal, cultural, and ideological forces, among others. It is only through a structuralist study that the intricate diachronic and synchronic relational web becomes evident, thus enriching the reader’s understanding of each respective text.