States of Sympathy Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel
- List Price: $52.00
- Binding: Hardcover
- Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
- Publish date: 11/01/1997
From the Declaration of Independence to the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the poetry of Wait Whitman, American writers have etched an archetypal character into the national psyche. For centuries the "rugged individual" was thought to be the keystone of the national identity, informing history, culture, literature, and democracy. But is this belief illusionary? Is American identity more collectively defined?
With insightful readings of early American novels, Elizabeth Barnes challenges the traditional concept of American self-identity and the underpinnings of American life. In place of the masculine "rugged individual" she reveals a more social, cooperative American. Barnes identifies a collective identity consciously fashioned by early writers who held to the Enlightenment belief that bonds of sympathy were the strongest foundation of a republican democracy. Authors like Hawthorne and Susanna Rawson, Barnes argues, employed a sentimental rhetorical strategy that engendered feelings of sympathy between the reader and the subject, which in turn created a culture strongly supported by familial bonds for and among Americans.
Barnes also discusses works cautioning against seduction or promoting filial devotion, such as A New England Tale and The Lamplighter. By viewing the texts through a feminist lens, she contends that they substantiated traditional patriarchal dominance by invoking a sense of obedience to authority -- whether government authority or male hegemony in American society.
This fresh interpretation of American literature recasts long-standing assumptions of literary theory, literature, criticism, and the culture of American democracy.