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The smithy of truth?

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TypeOfResource
Text
TitleInfo
Title
The smithy of truth?
SubTitle
Frank Norris, Edith Wharton, and the working-class concept in American literary naturalism
Identifier
ETD_2382
Identifier (type = hdl)
http://hdl.rutgers.edu/1782.2/rucore10005600001.ETD.000052289
Identifier (type = doi)
doi:10.7282/T3SJ1KR1
Language
LanguageTerm (authority = ISO 639-3:2007); (type = text)
English
Genre (authority = marcgt)
theses
Subject
Name (authority = LC-NAF)
NamePart (type = personal)
Norris, Frank, 1870-1902--Criticism and interpretation
Subject
Name (authority = LC-NAF)
NamePart (type = personal)
Wharton, Edith,1862-1937--Criticism and interpretation
Subject (authority = RUETD)
Topic
English
Subject (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
American literature--19th century--History and criticism
Subject (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
American literature--20th century--History and criticism
Subject (authority = ETD-LCSH)
Topic
Naturalism in literature
Abstract
Working-class culture in late-nineteenth century America cohered around a budding tradition that influenced radical politics for generations to come. Yet American literary naturalism, the period's primary literary movement, largely ignores the advancements gained by the working-class during this era. While it would be fairly justifiable to take to task other literary movements of the nineteenth century for participating in the wholesale denial of working-class culture, American literary naturalism stands as the century's most egregious offender because the working class ostensibly provided naturalistic novelists with realistic content. Exemplary of this neglect, Frank Norris's McTeague divests its working-class characters of sympathetic qualities through animalized reductions of human behavior. Thus Norris forecloses the possibility of audience self-identification with the novel; he offers the events in McTeague as an aberration arising from genetic defects, not sociological causes. The novel correlates poverty with biological inadaptability, an idea derived from social Darwinism, which implies that social change cannot solve the working-class's immanent decline into poverty. Moreover, the distance from poverty afforded by Norris’s insistence on a biologically caused economic decline strategically absolves the reader from considering her relationship to the working class and, consequently, her complicity in allowing poverty to exist.
The motivation for such reductionism stems not from Norris's ignorance of working-class culture; rather, the explanation for this denial resides in the question of audience--for whom did Norris write, exactly? The history of periodical literature in nineteenth-century America points to a bourgeois readership, one whose expectations of verisimilitude, originating with the realists and maintained by the naturalists, shaped the representation of fictional content that they consumed. Knowing his audience, Norris to sought meet bourgeois expectations of popular working-class stereotypes. To legitimate the bourgeoisie, McTeague depicts working class characters in reduced or diminished states of little social consequence. These misrepresentations passed for truth because of the widespread belief that realism and naturalism adhered to a doctrine of truth in representation.
As the twentieth century commenced, the conventions of American literary naturalism changed. In particular, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth signals a pivotal event in naturalistic fiction--the introduction of sympathetic working-class characters. Wharton refocuses the naturalistic critical narrative voice on elite New York society. Gerty Farrish and Nettie Struthers offer Lily Bart an alternative to the worldview promulgated by the Trenors, Dorsets, and other wealthy characters: charity becomes the opposite of debt in The House of Mirth, although Lily does not understand this until the end of the novel. Wharton uses Lily's decline to ford the class gap opened by her naturalistic predecessors; thus The House of Mirth reintegrates the reader into class relations by compelling her to question the social causes of poverty.
I propose that McTeague strategically ruptures the link between human behavior and its sociological causes, thus negating the social reality of working-class Americans. Several years later, The House of Mirth repairs this rupture by re-humanizing poverty through sympathetic characters. This transition represents the development from McTeague's fashionable brand of 1890s social Darwinism to Wharton's socially conscious moral indignation over class inequality that manifests in charity. Both novels indicate a shift in American culture from apologetic bourgeois self-legitimization to a heightened understanding of class relations in America. The House of Mirth thus disrupts McTeague's conceptualization of poverty, showing it to be a threat common to all members of society, not just those who are genetically ill-equipped. In so doing, Wharton illuminates the problems inherent in traditional naturalism’s consolidation of middle-class values; by disengaging social Darwinism, she underscores the mutable nature of class relations. While not directly related to the nineteenth-century working-class radical tradition, The House of Mirth recalls this movement’s concern for working-class political empowerment through the class inclusivity that Lily's descent signifies.
PhysicalDescription
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electronic resource
Extent
42 p.
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application/pdf
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Note (type = degree)
M.A.
Note (type = bibliography)
Includes bibliographical references (p.40-41)
Note (type = statement of responsibility)
by Joseph P. Schaffner
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Schaffner
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Joseph P.
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1983-
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Joseph P. Schaffner
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Singley
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Carol
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Carol J. Singley
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Christopher
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Christopher Fitter
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Rutgers University
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degree grantor
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Camden Graduate School
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school
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2010
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2010-01
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xx
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Rutgers University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
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ETD
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Camden Graduate School Electronic Theses and Dissertations
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ETD graduate
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The author owns the copyright to this work.
Copyright
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Copyright protected
Notice
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Availability
Status
Open
Reason
Permission or license
Note
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Name
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Schaffner
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Joseph
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2010-01-04 16:48:25
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Joseph Schaffner
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Rutgers University. Camden Graduate School
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I hereby grant to the Rutgers University Libraries and to my school the non-exclusive right to archive, reproduce and distribute my thesis or dissertation, in whole or in part, and/or my abstract, in whole or in part, in and from an electronic format, subject to the release date subsequently stipulated in this submittal form and approved by my school. I represent and stipulate that the thesis or dissertation and its abstract are my original work, that they do not infringe or violate any rights of others, and that I make these grants as the sole owner of the rights to my thesis or dissertation and its abstract. I represent that I have obtained written permissions, when necessary, from the owner(s) of each third party copyrighted matter to be included in my thesis or dissertation and will supply copies of such upon request by my school. I acknowledge that RU ETD and my school will not distribute my thesis or dissertation or its abstract if, in their reasonable judgment, they believe all such rights have not been secured. I acknowledge that I retain ownership rights to the copyright of my work. I also retain the right to use all or part of this thesis or dissertation in future works, such as articles or books.
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