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6.5 OTHER HUMANITIES, Interdisciplinary, Specific literatures
Commensality is an inherently social activity that shapes society and enacts social dynamics. Consequently, these shared exchanges can reveal much about the society and the individuals who engage in the act. This thesis explores commensality in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, The Book of Dust Series and companion texts to the novels. The research investigates how commensal exchanges create and maintain connections between characters across the collection. In doing so, it considers how literary characters differ from real-life humans and how the existing body of knowledge on commensality can be applied to literary figures. A qualitative approach was chosen as the research focused on characters social relationship with food. A thorough thematic analysis based on Braun and Clarkes framework was conducted, a method often employed in the fields of social science and, also, to investigate food in literature.
Philip Pullman has repeatedly said that, as an author, he is primarily concerned with the experience of being human and the relationships and behaviours that we as individuals engage in. In this context, the thesis argues that Pullman is also an author who understands and applies the significance and power of commensality in connecting characters. Shared eating and drinking experiences are abundant throughout Pullman’s novels. Commensality aids in creating and maintaining friendships, forging alliances, and strengthening familial ties. Commensal exchanges often reveal divisions in social class as well as group hierarchies. In addition, sharing similar food and drink shapes the social identity and behaviours of the characters in much the same way as may be observed in the real world. Through examining commensality in these literary works, it is evident that Pullman uses shared eating and drinking experiences to integrate the constellations of characters, creating and developing connections between them. In addition, Pullman effectively reveals much about the culture and societies in which these characters exist through these commensal acts. The approach taken in this research project may be applied to further investigations of food in literature. In particular this research provides a basis for exploring how current literature on commensality in the real world can be applied to fictional characters and how sharing these commensal experiences aids in connecting character constellations.
Grace, S. A. (2020). Commensality and Connection: How Shared Food Experiences Connect Characters in Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust and ‘Lyra’ Stories. MA Thesis. Technological University Dublin.