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The Use of Trauma in American Children's Literature
“Coming of age” in children’s fiction often means achieving maturity through the experience of trauma. In classics ranging from Old Yeller to The Outsiders, a narrative of psychological pain defies expectations of childhood as a time of innocence and play. In this provocative new book, Eric L. Tribunella explores why trauma, especially the loss of a loved object, occurs in some of the most popular and critically acclaimed twentieth-century American fiction for children.
Tribunella draws on queer theory and feminist revisions of Freud’s notion of melancholia, which is described as a fundamental response to loss, arguing that the low-grade symptoms of melancholia are in fact what characterize the mature, sober, and responsible American adult. Melancholia and Maturation looks at how this effect is achieved in a society that purports to protect youngsters from every possible source of danger, thus requiring melancholia to be induced artificially.
Each of the book’s five chapters focuses on a different kind of lost object sacrificed so as to propel the child toward a distinctively gendered, sexual, ethical, and national adulthood—from same-sex friends to the companionship of boy-and-his-dog stories, from the lost ideals of historical fiction about the American Revolution to the children killed or traumatized in Holocaust novels. The author examines a wide spectrum of works—including Jack London’s dog tales, the contemporary “realistic” novels of S. E. Hinton, and Newbery Medal winners like Johnny Tremain and Bridge to Terabithia.
Tribunella raises fundamental questions about the value of children’s literature as a whole and provides context for understanding why certain books become required reading for youth.
Eric L. Tribunella is assistant professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. His articles have been published in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Children’s Literature in Education, The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature, and Children’s Literature.
POWs in America during World War II
Examining the largest prisoner-of-war handling operation in U.S. history, this book offers a meticulous account of the myriad problems—as well as the impressive successes—that came with housing 371,000 German POWs on American soil during World War II. Antonio Thompson draws on extensive archival research to probe the various ways in which the U.S. government strove to comply with the Geneva Convention’s mandate that enemy prisoners be moved from the war zone and given food, shelter, and clothing equal to that provided for American soldiers.
While the prisoners became a ready source of manpower for the labor-starved American home front and received small wages in return, their stay in the United States generated more than a few difficulties, which included not only daunting logistics but also violence within the camps. Such violence was often blamed on Nazi influence and control; however, as Thompson points out, only a few of the prisoners were actually Nazis. Because the Germans had cobbled together military forces that included convicts, their own POWs, volunteers from neutral nations, and conscripts from occupied countries, the bonds that held these soldiers together amid the pressures of combat dissolved once they were placed behind barbed wire. When these “men in German uniform,” who were not always Germans, donned POW garb, their former social, racial, religious, and ethnic tensions quickly reemerged.
To counter such troubles, American authorities organized various activities—including sports, arts, education, and religion—within the POW camps; some prisoners even participated in an illegal denazification program created by the U.S. government. Despite the problems, Thompson argues, the POW-housing program proved largely successful, as Americans maintained their reputation for fairness and humane treatment during a time of widespread turmoil.
Antonio Thompson is an assistant professor of history at Austin Peay State University and the author of <i>German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass: Housing German Prisoners of War in Kentucky, 1942–1946</i>. He has also taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Closeted Traditions and Sexual Curiosities in Harper Lee’s Novel
How often does a novel earn its author both the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to Harper Lee by George W. Bush in 2007, and a spot on a list of “100 best gay and lesbian novels”? Clearly, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning tale of race relations and coming of age in Depression-era Alabama, means many different things to many different people. In Mockingbird Passing, Holly Blackford invites the reader to view Lee’s beloved novel in parallel with works by other iconic American writers—from Emerson, Whitman, Stowe, and Twain to James, Wharton, McCullers, Capote, and others. In the process, she locates the book amid contesting literary traditions while simultaneously exploring the rich ambiguities that define its characters. Blackford finds the basis of Mockingbird’s broad appeal in its ability to embody the mainstream culture of romantics like Emerson and social reform writers like Stowe, even as alternative canons—southern gothic, deadpan humor, queer literatures, regional women’s novels—lurk in its subtexts. Central to her argument is the notion of “passing”: establishing an identity that conceals the inner self so that one can function within a closed social order. For example, the novel’s narrator, Scout, must suppress her natural tomboyishness to become a “lady.” Meanwhile, Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, must contend with competing demands of thoughtfulness, self-reliance, and masculinity that ultimately stunt his effectiveness within an unjust society. Blackford charts the identity dilemmas of other key characters—the mysterious Boo Radley, the young outsider Dill (modeled on Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote), the oppressed victim Tom Robinson—in similarly intriguing ways. Queer characters cannot pass unless, like the narrator, Miss Maudie, and Cal, they split into the “modest double life.” In uncovering To Kill a Mockingbird’s lively conversation with a diversity of nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers and tracing the equally diverse journeys of its characters, Blackford offers a myriad of fresh insights into why the novel has retained its appeal for so many readers for over fifty years. At once Victorian, modern, and postmodern, Mockingbird passes in many canons.
Frances Goodrich’s Mountain Homespun—with intriguing elements of travel book, folklore study, sociological tract, “local color” fiction, and personal memoir—is an account of one of the earliest programs to revive mountain crafts. Goodrich, educated at the Yale Art School, started out as a religious social worker and was assigned by the Presbyterian Home Missions to Buncombe and Madison counties in North Carolina. Her book tells of the early days of Allanstand Cottage Industries, one of the first of the handicraft revival programs. Mountain Homespun provides information about the processes and the meaning of traditional mountain crafts that is not to be found anywhere else. Goodrich touches on basketry, quilting, and other crafts, but her focus is on weaving, spinning, and dyeing. Of particular interest is her information about how to read weaving drafts—recipes for the spreads—with their marks that tell the weaver how to thread the loom and in which order to “tramp” the pedals. As Jan Davidson’s introduction shows, Goodrich’s work was not initially intended to preserve mountain crafts, but to use them for social and economic purposes as part of a campaign to “uplift” the mountain people. Hers was a cultural intervention of massive proportions that changed the methods of production, the materials, the tools, the motives of the workers, and, eventually, who was doing the work. The story told in Mountain Homespun sheds light on what happens when urban intellectuals intervene in the folk process—and what the intervention does to the folk and the objects they make. Mountain Homespun is thus not only essential for those who would understand the history of such organizations as the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, but instructive for cultural workers as well as today’s buyers of “mountain crafts.”
How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along
World War II shaped the United States in profound ways, and this new book--the first in the Legacies of War series--explores one of the most significant changes it fostered: a dramatic increase in ethnic and religious tolerance. A Nation Forged in War is the first full-length study of how large-scale mobilization during the Second World War helped to dissolve long-standing differences among white soldiers of widely divergent backgrounds.
Never before or since have so many Americans served in the armed forces at one time: more than 15 million donned uniforms in the period from 1941 to 1945. Thomas Bruscino explores how these soldiers' shared experiences--enduring basic training, living far from home, engaging in combat--transformed their views of other ethnic groups and religious traditions. He further examines how specific military policies and practices worked to counteract old prejudices, and he makes a persuasive case that throwing together men of different regions, ethnicities, religions, and classes not only fostered a greater sense of tolerance but also forged a new American identity. When soldiers returned home after the war with these new attitudes, they helped reorder what it meant to be white in America.
Using the presidential campaigns of Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 as bookend events, Bruscino notes a key change in religious bias. Smith's defeat came at the end of a campaign rife with anti-Catholic sentiment; Kennedy's victory some three decades later proved that such religious bigotry was no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Despite such advances, Bruscino notes that the growing broad-mindedness produced by the war had limits: it did not extend to African Americans, whose own struggle for equality would dramatically mark the postwar decades.
Extensively documented, A Nation Forged in War is one of the few books on the social and cultural impact of the World War II years. Scholars and students of military, ethnic, social, and religious history will be fascinated by this groundbreaking new volume.
The Life and Work of a Southern Ruralist Writer, Harry Harrison Kroll
Known for his sometimes-gritty naturalism and use of Appalachian dialect, Harry Harrison Kroll (1888–1967) was a remarkably prolific Tennessee novelist and short-story writer during the middle decades of the twentieth century. His career spanned two of the three major shifts in publishing during the twentieth century: the heyday and decline of the fiction magazine market during the late 1920s, and the rise of nonfiction and solidification of paperback marketing during the 1950s. Never Been Rich explores details of Kroll’s humble, rural youth, his long delayed education and the development of his craft, before discussing his lengthy career and how it reflected changes in both public taste and the American publishing industry. Kroll focused on writing not as a high art, but instead on what was popular—what would earn him a living. He preferred to write voluminously rather than exquisitely, and growing up in the rural south provided him with a broad and fertile field of experience to plow for his crop of stories. As a writing instructor, he had a profound influence on his students, particularly the well-known Appalachian triumvirate of James Still, Jesse Stuart, and Don West. While Kroll may lack grand literary significance, Richard Saunders maintains that we should explore not merely the linguistic and thematic aspects of a writer’s work but also its broad economic and social contexts, including the idea that literature is both an art form and a marketable product in an extensive industry. His study of Kroll delves deeply into those contexts and shows that, while Kroll did not strive for a place among writers of high literature, he exemplifies the far more widely read popular literature of his times.
The first African American to publish a book on any subject, poet Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) has long been denigrated by literary critics who refused to believe that a black woman could produce such dense, intellectual work, let alone influence Romantic-period giants like Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson once declared that “the compositions published under her name are below dignity of criticism.” In recent decades, however, Wheatley’s work has come under new scrutiny as the literature of the eighteenth century and the impact of African American literature have been reconceived. In these never-before-published essays, fourteen prominent Wheatley scholars consider her work from a variety of angles, affirming her rise into the first rank of American writers. The pieces in the first section show that perhaps the most substantial measure of Wheatley’s multilayered texts resides in her deft handling of classical materials. The contributors consider Wheatley’s references to Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics and to the feminine figure Dido as well as her subversive critique of white readers attracted to her adaptation of familiar classics. They also discuss Wheatley’s use of the Homeric Trojan horse and eighteenth-century verse to mask her ambitions for freedom and her treatment of the classics as political tools. Engaging Wheatley’s multilayered texts with innovative approaches, the essays in the second section recontextualize her rich manuscripts and demonstrate how her late-eighteenth-century works remain both current and timeless. They ponder Wheatley’s verse within the framework of queer theory, the concepts of political theorist Hannah Arendt, rhetoric, African studies, eighteenth-century “salon culture,” and the theoretics of imagination. Together, these essays reveal the depth of Phillis Wheatley’s literary achievement and present concrete evidence that her extant oeuvre merits still further scrutiny.
Cultures and Conquests in the Early American Southeast
From the early 1500s to the mid-1700s, the American Southeast was the scene of continuous tumult as European powers vied for dominance in the region while waging war on Native American communities. Yet even before Hernando de Soto landed his expeditionary force on the Gulf shores of Florida, Native Americans had created their own “cultures of violence”: sets of ideas about when it was appropriate to use violence and what sorts of violence were appropriate to a given situation. In New Worlds of Violence, Matthew Jennings offers a persuasive new framework for understanding the European–Native American contact period and the conflicts among indigenous peoples that preceded it. This pioneering approach posits that every group present in the Southeast had its own ideas about the use of violence and that these ideas changed over time as they collided with one another. The book starts with the Mississippian era and continues through the successive Spanish and English invasions of the Native South. Jennings argues that the English conquered the Southeast because they were able to force everyone else to adapt to their culture of violence, which, of course, changed over time as well. By 1740, a peculiarly Anglo-American culture of violence was in place that would profoundly influence the expansion of England’s colonies and the eventual southern United States. While Native and African violence were present in this world, they moved in circles defined by the English. New Worlds of Violence concludes by pointing out that long-lasting violence bears long-lasting consequences. An important contribution to the growing body of work on the early Southeast, this book will significantly broaden readers’ understanding of America’s violent past.
In December 1846, John Jacob Oswandel—or Jake as he was often called—enlisted in the Monroe Guards, which later became Company C of the First Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. Thus began a twenty-month journey that led Oswandel from rural Pennsylvania through the American South, onward to the siege of Veracruz, and finally deep into the heart of Mexico. Waging war with Mexico ultimately realized President James K. Polk’s long-term goal of westward expansion all the way to the Pacific Ocean. For General Winfield Scott, the victorious Mexico City campaign would prove his crowning achievement in a fifty-three-year military career, but for Oswandel the “grand adventure of our lives” was about patriotism and honor in a war that turned this twenty-something bowsman into a soldier. Notes of the Mexican War, 1846–1848, is the quintessential primary source on the Mexican War. From Oswandel’s time of enlistment in Pennsylvania to his discharge in July of 1848, he kept a daily record of events, often with the perception and intuition worthy of a highly ranked officer. In addition to Oswandel’s engaging narrative, Timothy D. Johnson and Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr. provide an introduction that places Oswandel’s memoir within present-day scholarship. They illuminate the mindset of Oswandel and his comrades, who viewed the war with Mexico in terms of Manifest Destiny and they give insight into Oswandel’s historically common belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority—views that would bring about far worse consequences at the outbreak of the American Civil War a dozen years later. As historians continue to highlight the controversial actions of the Polk administration and the expansionist impulse that led to the conflict, Notes of the Mexican War, 1846–1848, opens a window into the past when typical young men rallied to a cause they believed was just and ordained. Oswandel provides an eyewitness account of an important chapter in America’s history.