Cover

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Series Info, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

For a number of important conversations early on, I am indebted to Daniel Aaron, Hugh McNeal, Peter McNeal, Elaine Scarry, Jeffrey Dolven, Sudhir Venkatesh, Samuel Otter, and the late Ian MacKillop. This project originated in Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and grew in Stanford’s Humanities Center; ...

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xvi

The purpose of this book is to redress the neglect of poverty as a category of critical discourse in the study of American literature and culture. Despite its prominence as a subject in the social sciences, poverty has remained unfocused in literary studies that privilege the cultural identity of the marginalized. ...

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Introduction: The Problem of Poverty in Literary Criticism

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pp. 1-20

This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times,” wrote the social reformer Henry George toward the end of the nineteenth century, “the central fact from which spring industrial, social, and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain.” ...

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One: Beggaring Description: Herman Melville and Antebellum Poverty Discourse

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pp. 21-61

The view expressed by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), that the New World was the regenerative home for those individuals made “countryless” by their poverty, received radical revision in the years leading up to the Civil War. ...

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Two: Being Poor in the Progressive Era: Dreiser and Wharton on the Pauper Problem

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pp. 62-105

Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905) have often been intertwined in the minds of literary critics, dating back at least to a 1907 review that noted the novels’ parallel concerns with the surrender to sexual pleasure. Recent critics have observed the similar social descents of Dreiser’s George Hurstwood and Wharton’s Lily Bart,1 ...

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Three: The Depression in Black and White: Agee, Wright, and the Aesthetics of Damage

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pp. 106-147

Historians of 1930s America have sought to distinguish the Great Depression from earlier economic crises by highlighting the effects of the era’s endemic want on observations of the psychological and cultural health of the nation. According to Richard Pells, the Depression brought a new sense of decomposition at every level of public and private life; ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 148-154

Richard Wright's autobiography highlights the crucial point of my study as a whole. The exploration of poverty as a critical category is not necessarily an argument that cultural definitions of identity are simply “displacements” of class issues.1 Poverty is such a powerful tool of inquiry—in the hands of certain writers, at least—because of its “in between-ness” as a category of social being. ...

Notes

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pp. 155-200

Works Cited

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pp. 201-218

Index

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pp. 219-228