Poetic Justice and Edith Wharton’s “Xingu”: An Evolutionary Psychological Approach
Insights generated in the emerging field of evolutionary psychology offer a useful new framework for examining Edith Wharton’s “Xingu.” The satiric wit energizing this well-known short story depends in large measure upon the obtuseness of its central characters, who embrace counterfactual estimations of their gifts and attainments: thwarting the operations of poetic justice in order to protect social reputation and self-image, they become objects of derision. Their behavior illustrates the workings of adaptive mechanisms for self-deception. Insofar as their comically exaggerated commitment to false self-presentation illustrates universal features of evolved human nature, the target of Wharton’s scorn is accordingly enlarged. Her narrative spotlights the psychological processes that sustain self-deception and scapegoating, raising serious questions concerning human claims to rational thought and ethical principle.
Keywords: deception, poetic justice, reputation, satire, scapegoat, self-deception
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