Gayatri Devi

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation is an investigation into the relation between humor and authority based on the distinction first articulated theoretically by Freud between tendentious and non-tendentious cases of humor. The first chapter is a fairly detailed introduction to the historical and theoretical issues that have preoccupied studies of humor. Though my study makes occasional use of linguistic insights on humor, my critical thrust is not on a linguistic analysis of humor, but to demonstrate how humor may be used successfully or unsuccessfully as an alternate idiom to aggression. The second chapter discusses the relationship of aggression to authority fundamental to the conflictual model of humor in the works of the seventeenth century writer Sir Thomas Browne. Browne's texts demonstrate in an incipient form the ground-zero of disarming tendentious humor. The third chapter discusses the two different modes in which humor may act as a corrective to authority from the inside in two colonial texts: Sir william Jones's translation of the Sanskrit drama Sakuntala and Rudyard Kipling's Kim. The fourth chapter attempts to demonstrate that Dorothy Parker uses self-deprecating and melancholic humor in her short stories as a device to create self - awareness in her characters which leads them to experience liberating laughter. The fifth chapter discusses the almost total appropriation of the language of aggression by subversive humor in the radio-plays of The Firesign Theatre which insinuates itself inside the structures of authority and attempts to destroy it from the inside. The radioplays of The Firesign Theatre represent a highly evolved and sophisticated structure of humor that does not leave safety valves of any manner to save the institutions that they challenge. The overall impulse governing my study is to discover as many models to combat aggression successfully with as little harm done to one's self and others.