Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Mary Frances Hopkins


This study examines oral narrative performance within the cultural context of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonites in Moundridge, Kansas, whose forebears were members of a congregational group that migrated from the Russian Province of Volhynia in 1874. These immigrants strove to maintain Gemeinde--a mutually supportive community of believers separated from the world. A Swiss Volhynian Mennonite himself, the author tape-recorded interviews with second and third generation descendants of the Russian immigrants. Using the interview transcriptions and personal observation in the Moundridge community as primary data, the author demonstrates how the formative elements of everyday narrative performance both sustain and are shaped by the social and cultural norms of Swiss Mennonite Gemeinde. An analysis of the personal and social roles of Swiss Volhynian storytellers reflects a fundamental tension between individuality and conformity. An examination of the written transcriptions of these oral narratives reveals noticeable contextual overtones. The use of dialect, insiders' code, community-oriented genres, and the structural technique of linking (connecting the story with people and places familiar to both storyteller and listener) demonstrates oral narrators' evocation of an in-group context for storytelling. Integrating narrator and narrative into a discussion of performance process, this study presents a synchronic view of narrative performance, which sees the audience, the performance setting, and community norms and expectations as constitutive elements of performance. Swiss Volhynians most frequently perform at the level of natural or unself-conscious narration rather than intentional or public narration, allowing storytellers to maintain the community norm of self-effacement despite their obvious competence as performers. An analysis of performance setting describes it as comprised of social norms, physical environment, and the psychological makeup of teller and listener. Settings vary in terms of thematic and behavioral expectations that determine the level of a storyteller's acceptance. Finally, in addition to examining the author's special stance as a researcher, audience member, and performer of Swiss Volhynian oral narration, this study shows that understanding personal experience storytelling provides insight into the aesthetics and criticism of performances at any level: those in everyday experience, in the public arena, and in the classroom.