Housekeeping reconfigures white, rural, lower-middle-class Protestantism as a critical epistemology of inventive social potential. Through the narrator-protagonist Ruth, the novel stages a critique of her town’s religious and aspiring middle-class attitudes, and the ideologies that underpin them: neoliberalism, individualism, and conservative Christian thought. On the one hand, she provides ethnographic accounts of the town, through which it becomes metonymic of rural, white, lower-middle-class life. But much of her narrative transpires in a different mode: portrayals of nature that relocate American Transcendentalism in a Protestant lineage. This revision of Transcendentalism is not merely philosophical; rather, it reveals that a critical approach to rationality, and to the conservative Christianity conjured by Ruth’s ethnography, is available via Protestantism. The novel’s depiction of her identity as universal casts whiteness and middle-class-ness as neutral categories. But in doing so, it also blurs the social real enough to reimagine the political contours of its subjects.


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pp. 77-105
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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