Date of Award
Master of Arts
Matthew W. Sivils
The foundation of the American nation can be traced back to corruptions of ownership and property ideals. From the confiscation of native land to the ownership of both Indian and African American slaves, America's "founding" is rooted in English hegemony and the marginalization of non-white races. In the nineteenth century, American authors took retrospective looks into the past in order to unmask problems that, though allegedly "resolved" or "over," were actually still very much alive in their present day. I use the works of Sedgwick, Hawthorne, and Twain to argue that even post-Revolution old property ideals of the colonial era were still practiced in the new American nation.
I start off by examining representations of property in Sedgwick's Hope Leslie. I argue that the Puritans succeeded in confiscating and colonizing Indian land because of their commonwealth structure. At the same time, I point out that Sedgwick's instances of captivity actually foster friendships that promote cross-cultural understanding. Next, I explore the evils of inheritance in relation to Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. I indicate that European ideals of fixed-class structure impair social mobility and promote old evils, and that, for this reason, the ending actually echoes eventual doom. Lastly, I take a look into the post- Civil War era at Pudd'nhead Wilson and argue that Twain's satire unveils the problems African-Americans still faced even after being "freed." Additionally, I indicate that through the restoration of "proper" inheritance at the novel's close, Twain challenges the reader to judge the characters without regards to their skin color.
All three of these novels display different aspects of property problems in the nineteenth century through retrospective lenses. In this manner, they unmask conflicts of their present-day while also tracing these disputes back to the nation's founding. I contend that through these texts Sedgwick, Hawthorne, and Twain indicate how the colonial era and its issues of ownership lived on well past independence.
Blanchette, Rebecca, "The foundation of the nation: Exploring tenets of property ideals in nineteenth-century American literature" (2014). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13768.