Threatening narratives of community: Fear, incongruity, and performative values in American culture and literature
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This thesis aims to trace threats to American narratives of community, beginning with an interrogation into what types of communities serve as a scaffold to feelings of nostalgia. Influenced by definitions of community by scholars such as Miranda Joseph, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Joseph Roach, among others, the thesis considers the influence of context on concepts of idealized value. After analyzing idealized representations of American rural community through a close analysis of the New England Puritans, I read the literary response to changing communities that emerge with the increasing popularity of urban space in the second half of the nineteenth century. Taking Joseph's suggestion to reevaluate community as it relates to and relies on what she calls the performativity of production and consumption, I demonstrate how enacting perceptions of common identity or nostalgia for simpler times past is also critically related to America's changing industry, and especially to the growth of cities. Because of its attempt to separate from this growth of capitalism, I use the literary representation of an agrarian utopian community in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance to show how urban values can permeate into ideals of American rural community. Hawthorne locates a disturbance within the performance demonstrated for maintaining goal-oriented social relationships, suggesting an inability to have a truly utopian community separated from the urban-focused society. Finally, Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie uses a biological resistance as a vehicle to question the capitalistic attempt of separating community based on the use-value of potential workers. Dreiser's depiction of different types of materiality (economic consumption and biological consumption), especially as social markers, ultimately demonstrates the union necessitated by a common space, frequently dismissed by modes of production encouraging urban expansion.