The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream

The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream

The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream

The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream


This study is the culmination of a decade of work that began with the controversial article, "Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision," which was recently honored by the Speech Communication Association with the Charles H. Woolbert Research Award in recognition of "scholarship of exceptional originality and influence."

With the publication of this long-anticipated book, Bormann offers new insights into the development of American thought and the related social processes of intellectual history and small group communication as well as rhetorical criticism. To accomplish this he studies religious and reform speaking in the United States from the time of the Puritans to the Civil War.

Not attempting to survey all of the varied practices of preaching and reform speaking, he isolates, describes, and criticizes one rhetorical tradition, starting with the Puritan sermon and moving through the emergence of revivalism to the rise of the antislavery reform efforts and culminating in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. He thereby presents for the first time an integrated and structured account of one rhetorical tradition in this country. Of perhaps equal interest to rhetorical critics are Bormann's research procedures as he presents the first book-length study to utilize fantasy theme analysis.


The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream began as a part of a project at the University of Minnesota to establish a Center for the Study of Religion in American Society. A number of scholars from such disciplines as history, philosophy, English, and speech-communication planned to bring an interdisciplinary approach to the scholarly study of the impact of religion upon a number of aspects of the culture of the United States. We took as our theme "From the Sacred to the Secular," and I began to fashion the materials in my lectures in a course in the history and criticism of American public address to relate to that theme. Subsequently the promise of funding for the Center fell through but my project had by that time taken on a life of its own.

I found myself mulling over a vast and disparate body of materials from scholars in intellectual, social, and religious history, in sociology of religion, and in the critical analysis of speeches and mass communication that covered a large span of years and a very diverse set of communication practices. Since there were no previous studies which surveyed the history of mass communication in America, the diversity of materials and the volume of studies which alluded to or made tangential comments about what was my central concern made the task of finding some unifying explanatory structure most difficult.

Comments in various studies by historians, philosophers, and rhetorical critics hinted at a connection between religious and secular speaking, so I began to search for connecting links. I found the most direct link in the move from religious to reform speaking in the decade of the 1830s. Finally, I was able to document an unfolding rhetorical tradition from the time of the Puritan preachers to the present which exhibited characteristics similar to . . .

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