Uncanny Capitalism: The Gothic, Power, and The Market Revolution in American Literature
AuthorParker, Michael Lynn
Committee ChairHogle, Jerrold E.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn Uncanny Capitalism, I examine works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that incorporate literary elements typically associated with gothic fiction into their depictions of America's capitalist economy. In so doing, I trace a widespread tendency found throughout American literature to some of its earliest and most revealing manifestations, arguing that the gothic lent itself to such uses because eighteenth-century thinkers had long relied upon the fictional mode to represent the divergence between their own commercial societies and the feudal economies of the past. In the course of its development, capitalism occasionally displayed characteristics that linked it with the gothic practices it had supposedly left behind. When it did, my chosen writers used the gothic to represent the convergence between America's commercial economy and its putative other.Chapter one examines the dichotomy that J. Hector St. John de CrÃ¨vecoeur establishes between Europe and America in Letters from an American Farmer that is founded upon two opposing forms of power: an oppressive European one and another that is American and productive. This opposition collapses in the letter devoted to Charles Town where Europe's feudal institutions have made an uncanny reappearance on American soil. Chapter two reads the self-incriminating narrators of Edgar Allan Poe's tales of murder and confession as grotesque examples of the types of coercion upon which the nation's emerging market economy depended in the nineteenth-century. Chapter three examines Frederick Douglass' alternation between the formal techniques of the realist and gothic novels in his 1845 Narrative, and argues that Douglass uses the figure of the gothic monster to apprehend the way in which slavery violates the natural order by commodifying human beings and placing them on a par with the brute creation. I conclude the dissertation with an analysis of the uncanny episodes in The Blithedale Romance that Nathaniel Hawthorne uses to reveal the long reach of the commodity form and the futility of any efforts at escaping the deleterious effects of the market revolution via a Transcendentalist retreat into nature.