But This Book Has No Pictures!: The Illustrated Short Story and The Saturday Evening Post

Jarrod Waetjen

Major Professor: Ellen Todd

Committee Members: Denise Albanese, Timothy Gibson

Innovation Hall, 316
December 01, 2010, 08:30 AM to 10:30 AM


This dissertation aims to theorize the place of the short story in contemporary academia, detail the problematic role it plays in scholarly texts, provide new theoretical approaches by way of the methodologies of visual studies and cultural studies, and use the illustrated stories published in the Saturday Evening Post in order to demonstrate the potential of treating short stories as visual commodity objects.

This project begins with the premise that the short story receives less critical attention than the other three “principle” genres (poems, plays, and novels) due to its uncomfortable position in the literary canon as well as its original manifestation as both commodity and popular media.  Thus, the first half of the dissertation will speak to the broader problems posed by the form both as an aesthetic object and as cultural/visual object.  Rather than attempting to address the short story while simultaneously rejecting its role as a literary commodity, as many critics have done already, this dissertation will hypothesize that these short works deserve more careful consideration because of their commodity form.  If seen as a cultural artifact – a text published complete with illustration in either a “slick” or “pulp” magazine, filled with advertising images, with an editing board concerned with their own socio-economic agendas – the illustrated short story suddenly warrants the attention that contemporary literary scholars have afforded other media such as film and television.  Consequently, this dissertation endeavors to challenge the reader to consider not just the text of the short story, but rather the visual object – including text, illustration, and title – as a whole.  Ultimately, it will argue that to consider the short story as only a text in an anthology would be analogous to addressing a film by only considering the script.

In order to illuminate the broader argumentative claims of the first half, the second half of the dissertation will take as its object domain a series of illustrated short stories published between 1945-1955, selected from the Saturday Evening Post, a popular “slick fiction” periodical known for its simulacral “small town America” iconography and conservative agenda. To begin, I will examine a series of short stories organized thematically in order to reveal the way in which the illustrations play on themes of post- World War II imperialism and McCarthyism in order to capture readers’ attention and to foster anxieties that can later be satisfied by commodities advertised in the same periodical.  In support of these assertions, the final two chapters will address thePost illustrations of Al Parker, and seven of the short stories written by Kurt Vonnegut published in the Post, as this will be an opportunity to analyze the scholarship produced to this point, and to demonstrate the critical potential of considering these works as visual objects.

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