Under the Influence: Ethics and Domesticity in Prohibition-Era Literature
Gorham Doss, Crystal Rae
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Under the Influence: Ethics and Domesticity in Prohibition-Era Literature explores the ways in which the representations of drinking and drunkenness in Prohibition-era fiction are part of a larger project of modernism that involves the ethics of working through problems of attachment as a way of negotiating familiar forms of sentimentality. I examine the work of four Prohibition-era modernist writers: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Dorothy Parker. Examining ethics in modernist novels can help us understand how these texts go about negotiating sentimentality by examining how they determine right action, or refuse to do so, leaving the ethical work to the reader. I focus on the sentimental as it is manifest in domesticity. I seek to demonstrate that for modernist writers working in the 1920s, changes in domesticity resulting from Prohibition greatly influenced how these writers employ sentimentality and how they work through ethical problems of attachment. The relationship between domesticity and Prohibition bears closer examination because drinking and drunkenness are so frequently employed by modernist writers to work through problems of attachment. My claim is that across a spectrum of modernist texts from the Prohibition era, there is a continuity of concern regarding the reformulation of the ways in which problems of attachment are approached, especially in regards to the relationship between domesticity and attachment. Chapter one, "‘It's Sort of What We Have Instead of God’: Gender and the Ethics of Self-Control in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises ," argues that Hemingway critiques Prohibition's perceived emasculation of the American man by advocating an ethics based on the uses of pleasure and self-control. Using Foucault's work on sexuality and ethics in the ancient world, I demonstrate that Hemingway represents ethics as emanating from appropriateness based on need, timeliness, and status rather than external codes or norms. I also argue that the struggle for self-mastery is central to Hemingway's representation of both ethics and manhood. Finally, I examine the limits of Hemingway's ethical system and argue that the conception of autonomy on which it relies is a modernist reframing of sentiment. Chapter two, "The Ethics of Male Intimacy in The Great Gatsby ," examines how modernist writers work through male intimacy through an analysis of The Great Gatsby. I argue that Fitzgerald rejects masculine domesticity in favor of a masculine ethics based on fidelity to male homosocial bonds. I also argue that Fitzgerald uses intoxication to critique an individualist ethics based on an autonomous wise man, like that posited by Hemingway, further emphasizing the relational nature of ethics and masculinity. I conclude by examining how Fitzgerald's use of an unreliable narrator represents modernist ambivalence towards realist sentimentality. Chapter three, "‘Put a Mississippian in Alcohol and You Have a Gentleman’: Respectability in William Faulkner's Sanctuary ," examines how respectability influences attachment. Using Foucault's concept of problematization, I argue that Faulkner advocates an ethics of problematization that seeks to situate manhood within individualism, family, and community. I briefly describe how respectability was a contested term during the Prohibition-era. I then examine how Faulkner uses drinking and drunkenness to problematize respectability and its ethics. Finally, I consider Sanctuary in relation to modernist aesthetics of difficulty. Chapter four, "‘You Might as Well Live’: Drinking, Repetition, and the Ethics of Survival in Dorothy Parker's Short Fiction," explores how Dorothy Parker, a writer long excluded from modernism because of her gender and because of her sentimentality, works through problems of attachment as problems of survival. I argue that Parker's short fiction explores the ways in which individuals employ and refine the cultural models of ēthos available to them in order to survive asymmetrical relations of power. First, I discuss Foucault's concept of practices of freedom and models. I then explore how Parker uses character types as the basis for ēthos and practices of freedom and how these types relate to domesticity and drinking in the Prohibition-era. I conclude by examining how Parker combines these character types with repetition to push the types to their limits, forcing moments of rupture where abuses of power are exposed.