Domestic mobility in the American post-frontier, 1890-1900
This project offers a redefinition of domestic fiction through a consideration of how themes of domesticity intersect with tropes of mobility in late nineteenth century literature and culture. By extending the archive of domestic fiction beyond the antebellum era, I examine the ways in which domestic ideology becomes located in the public sphere, where concerns about the increasing movement of the population and the nation were under debate. I argue that understanding the domestic as a mobile concept enables the reconsideration of the importance of domesticity in shaping the discourses of American identity and exceptionalism beyond the Civil War era. Chapter I examines Clara Louise Burnham's Sweet Clover: A Romance of the White City and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser in order to show how the nation is displayed and performed through domesticity. Rather than homespaces, these novels situate domesticity in the public arena of imperial politics and market capitalism, demonstrating the ways in which "home" reaches beyond private, interior domains. Chapter 2 reads Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House and Abraham Cahan's Yekl in order to show how domesticity is reconfigured through social spaces in which national narratives about immigration and Americanization are presented and debated. Chapter 3 extends my examination of the literal and metaphorical representations of "home" as I consider how Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars and Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain both rely on domestic ideology in order to challenge and secure the boundaries of racial identity. In these novels, the domestic is represented as a stabilizing force necessary to map the distinctions between male and female, white and black, and national "self" and foreign "other." Finally, Chapter 4 examines The Californians by Gertrude Atherton and The Octopus by Frank Norris, demonstrating the ways in which domestic ideology is constituted in the "contact zone" between people, cultures, and places. The focus in this chapter on literary depictions of U.S. expansionism suggests yet another way that the language, themes, and tropes of domesticity are critical to the construction of late nineteenth American nationalism, which was concerned with issues of geographical, social, and economic mobility.
- English