"And sympathy unites, whom fate divides": Reading and social bonds in early America
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Early American authors were profoundly interested how the integration of reading and sympathy could function as a model for social relations. The authors examined in this project: Benjamin Franklin, William Hill Brown, Phillis Wheatley and Catharine Maria Sedgwick all used their fictional and semi-fictional alternate realities to attempt to stretch the existing social framework toward the directions in which they hoped to see the political and social discourse of early America expand. Relying upon their understanding of reading as an agent for social change, these authors conceptualized a national identity as well as advanced models of how different individuals could become a part of a connected web which constitutes a cohesive national fabric. Sympathetic literacy was a means by which early Americans could gain individual agency, but authors argued that agency should be checked with social reason to minimize the potential for social fragmentation. Yet political and economic pressures, as well as internal ambivalence about their own advocacy, sabotaged their ability to embrace a diverse society in the modern sense. Despite their sometimes striking failures, these authors' projects should not be dismissed as an example of the increasingly strong drive to declare a singular American identity. Instead, the early American community's struggle to reconcile pluralism even while it desired a unified identity holds productive avenues for modern discussions of pluralism.