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Introduction

  • William Dow
Chapter
  • 37 Downloads
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)

Abstract

Narrating Class in America Fiction is about class as discourse, how class is represented in American fiction in the 1850–1940 period. My theoretical claim is that literature is a means to access the way class becomes part of subjectivity: how it forms, in conjunction with race and gender, a discursive subject. Beyond any simple dichotomy between fiction and reality, the power of the poetic word is rooted as much in its capacity to document the forces that shape the world as in its abil­ity to reshape our most fundamental ideas about social and material determinations. The starting point for writing the book was the frus­tration I was experiencing in reading literary criticism—particularly from the United States—in which considerations of class and class rep­resentations were almost completely evacuated while such interpretive grids as gender and race were given the status of automatic concern and legitimacy. I began with the question, “why is class an afterthought?” Major exceptions of course exist, for example: Paula Rabinowitz’s Labor and Desire (1991); John Carlos Rowe’s At Emerson’s Tomb (1997); Gregory S. Jay’s American Literature and Culture Wars (1997); Amy Shrager Lang’s The Syntax of Class (2003); Barbara Foley’s Radical Representations (1993); George Lipsitz’s Rainbow at Midnight (1994); and Michael Trask’s Cruising Modernism (2003). Exceptionally, these works, in their multiplicity of approaches to class and culture, do not deflect, deny, or mystify class realities.

Keywords

Class Division Direct Address Class Consciousness Labor Historian American Writer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    See E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978 );Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    David Montgomery, Beyond Equality: Labor and Radical Republicans, 1862–1872 ( New York: Knopf, 1967 );Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Herbert Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History ( New York: Knopf, 1976 );Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Stephan Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City ( Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1964 ).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (London: Routledge, 1996 ), 25–46.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    See for example Stuart Hall, “The Meaning of New Times,” in New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, ed. Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques (London: Lawrence, 1989 ), 116–134;Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (1984): 53–792;Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class; and Raymond Williams, Culture ( London: Fontana, 1981 ).Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See Roland Barthes’s Mythologies, tran. James Stevenson (New York: Routledge, 1994).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    See Michael Staub’s Voices of Persuasion: Politics of Representation in 1930s America (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 9.
    Countering such generalizations—or better, often subsuming them— are the issues of class and domesticity, class and race, class and gender, and the increasing attention being paid to the middle class as a vital object of study. See, for example, Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fictions (New York: Oxford UP, 1987 );Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    David Roediger, Towards the Abolition of Whiteness ( New York: Verso, 1994 );Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 ( New York: Knopf, 1986 );Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    Stuart Blumin, The Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760–1900 (New York: Cambridge UP, 1989); and Christopher P. Wilson, White Collar Fictions ( Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1992 ).Google Scholar

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© William Dow 2009

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  • William Dow

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