American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830-1998

American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830-1998

American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830-1998

American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830-1998

Synopsis

The dreams of abundance, choice, and novelty that have fueled the growth of consumer culture in the United States would seem to have little place in the history of Mississippi -- a state long associated with poverty, inequality, and rural life, But as Ted Ownby demonstrates in this innovative study, consumer goods and shopping have played important roles in the development of class, race, and gender relations in Mississippi from the antebellum era to the present.

After examining the general and plantation stores of the nineteenth century, a period when shopping habits were stratified according to racial and class hierarchies, Ownby traces the development of new types of stores and buying patterns in the twentieth century, when women and African Americans began to wield new forms of economic power, Using sources as diverse as store ledgers, blues lyrics, and the writings of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and Will Percy, he illuminates the changing relationships among race, rurallife, and consumer goods and, in the process, offers a new way to understand the connection between power and culture in the American South.

Excerpt

If you entered a Mississippi general store in the nineteenth century, your experience would have a great deal to do with your own identity. If you were a wealthy man or woman, you would judge the selection limited and its quality questionable by the standards you had learned from urban travel and trade with city merchants. If you were a slave, you would take pleasure in a rare opportunity to make choices and enjoy unusual sensations, but you would also be suspicious of any freedoms you seemed to have. If you were a woman in a free farming family, you would notice that most and probably all of the people in and around the store were men, and many of the men seemed to be there more to enjoy themselves than to buy things. If you were one of those men, you would feel more at home than any other visitors, but you would worry that buying things at the store might be putting you too deeply in debt. and if you owned the store, you would consider yourself an emissary of cosmopolitan culture, and you would be a bit frustrated that too few of the locals wanted to hear your message about the virtues of new goods.

In antebellum Mississippi, and in much of the later nineteenth century as well, the great majority of free people did their shopping at such general stores. Throughout the antebellum period, most people in the state could not choose from a great variety of stores. Only in larger towns, especially those on bodies of water, could potential shoppers choose from a variety of specialized stores. Along with general stores, residents of wealthy and well-settled Adams County . . .

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