At Emerson's Tomb: The Politics of Classic American Literature

At Emerson's Tomb: The Politics of Classic American Literature

At Emerson's Tomb: The Politics of Classic American Literature

At Emerson's Tomb: The Politics of Classic American Literature

Synopsis

Representative works are interpreted in light of the two great political movements of the nineteenth century: the abolition of slavery and the women's rights movement. By reexamining Emerson, Poe, Melville, Douglass, Walt Whitman, Chopin, and Faulkner and others, Rowe assesses the degree to which major writers' attitudes toward race, class, and gender contribute to specific political reforms in nineteenth and twentieth-century American culture.

Excerpt

In this book, I reassess the liberal tradition of American literature in terms of its relevance to the two great rights movements of modern American history: the abolition of slavery and the women's rights movement. In more general terms, this book examines the ways in which classic American writers from Emerson to Faulkner responded to changing attitudes toward race and gender from the 1840s to 1940s. My methodological assumption is that the claims for social reform made so often by liberal culture should be evaluated in terms of the political and social achievements of specific historical movements.

Of course, demonstrable political changes are not the only ways in which social reforms occur, and I try in the following chapters to suggest some of the ways that literary works change psychological attitudes and thus humans' behaviors in ways that go beyond political and legal reform. Even as I recognize the uniqueness of the changes literature and the arts can bring in individuals' attitudes, I also argue that psychological transformations of readers and viewers are most effective when they are linked with larger social and political reforms. Too often and for too long, the Emersonian tradition of "aesthetic dissent" has defined itself as distinct from those political movements through which historical progress has been achieved in America.

The term "classic" is used in this study in a deliberately ambiguous manner. On the one hand, it refers to the writings by authors associated primarily . . .

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