Date of Award

2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Sciences (MSS)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jeannie B. Thomas

Abstract

When I was a child, my mother often told me a "true" story about a beautiful Shoshone maiden who married a handsome American cowboy. The setting was the 1850s in the fertile valley of Cache County, Utah. The man's name was John Turner Garr and the woman was called Susie. This young couple was my paternal great-great grandparents. Together they lived a life that defied their disparate cultures. I envisioned them, young, wild, and free; he, dressed in buckskin leggings, riding among the Shoshone men; she, in soft doeskin supporting a papoose on her back. The idyllic life of my fantasy could, at best, only be temporary for them. It became for me, however, a catalyst that helped to form my own identity, and the identity of my family generations later.

Families tell stories such as this one to their children as a means to connect them to family identity and culture. The family is a child 's first culture. Families are the structures that give children their first perceptions of themselves. Through families, children are introduced to the narratives which confer upon them a sense of their place within the context of their environment. These narratives infuse in family members a collective understanding and a shared awareness of who they are and what they can become. From infancy on, cultural ideals and expectations are embedded in each family member through their family stories. "Family folklore may be said to be the first and basic dynamic traditional system encountered by most people the world over . . .. It is in this setting that we learn to participate in certain traditional roles. "1 These shared interpretations serve to bind the family as a cohesive unit. "There is no doubt that we learn about the idea of family and how to be a member of a family from our families ... family stories are one of the cornerstones of family culture; they throw what may be mute and habitual into sharp relief. By their presence, they say what issues -- from the most public and predictable to the most private and idiosyncratic -- really concern a given family.

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