States of Sympathy Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel
- Binding: Paperback
- Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
- Publish date: 09/01/1997
- ISBN: 9780231108799
- ISBN10: 0231108796
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.