Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Award Winner

Recipient of the 2000 Outstanding Master's Thesis Award - First Place.

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Open Access Thesis


Komunyakaa, Yusef--Criticism and interpretation; Cognitive grammar; Metaphor in literature; Light and darkness in literature;


The theory of language promoted by cognitive linguistics points to metaphor as the crucial element of language and thought: a mode of thinking which determines our perception of reality. Stressing the importance of metaphor in our everyday life, George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner state that the nature of poetic metaphors is the same as the nature of conventional metaphors which appear in "standard" language. Creating poetic metaphors, poets simply explore "conventional" metaphors, using four major strategies: expanding, elaborating, composing, and questioning. Focusing on questioning as the main strategy through which American "multicultural" literatures can undermine basic Western concepts of the English language, this study examines the ways in which Yusef Komunyakaa questions conventional metaphors of light and darkness in his poetry.

Chapter One of this thesis situates the cognitive linguistics' theory of metaphor in the context of African American literary criticism, especially the theory of double-voice. Chapter Two investigates Komunyakaa's treatment of conventional metaphors of outer and inner sight, directly related to the concepts of light and darkness, in Neon Vernacular, and emphasizes the importance of the imagery of seeing in Komunyakaa's definition of power relations in the contemporary world. Chapter Three focuses directly on metaphors of light and darkness in Neon Vernacular: Komunyakaa's attempts to reverse the traditional definitions through criticism of light, as well as his use of the imagery of union between light and darkness as a metaphor of the African-American double-consciousness. Chapter Four analyzes Komunyakaa's use of metaphors of light and darkness in Dien Cai Dau to describe an extreme situation of the Vietnam war, and define the identity of the American nation in liminal circumstances. The final part of this thesis concludes that Komunyakaa's central imagery of light and darkness in union might be treated as a metaphor of the underlining feature of Komunyakaa's work: merging of Western and African traditions.

Year of Submission


Year of Award

2000 Award


Department of English Language and Literature

First Advisor

Vince Gotera, advisor


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