By William Dow
Creation: The Case of Class
1 Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass: “Hard paintings and Blood”
2 category and the Performative in Rebecca Harding Davis’s lifestyles within the Iron generators, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie
3 physique Tramping, classification, and Masculine Extremes: Jack London’s the folk of the Abyss
4 “Always Your Heart”: type Designs in Jean Toomer’s Cane
5 Meridel Le Sueur’s Salute to Spring: “A stream Up Which All Are Moving”
6 type, paintings, and New Races: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes have been looking at God and Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth
7 classification “Truths” in James Agee’s allow us to Now compliment recognized Men
Conclusion: Going again to type
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Additional info for Narrating Class in American Fiction
In section 7, his abolitionist discourse in tow, Whitman wishes to make persons of other colors (“red, black, or white”) imagine that they have been placed, through the poet’s figurative transferences, in the position of a slave. The poetic persona thus takes it upon himself to sell the slave’s body to the reader—a body, like all human bodies, that must not be degraded, defiled, or enslaved: “if life and the soul are sacred the human body is sacred” (122). When the poet enters into the body of the slave, however, he subverts conventional slave discourses (the body is not to sell but to aesthetically and sensuously understand and appreciate) and creates psychic and visual discourses that beseech the reader to understand the male slave in terms of evolutionary (and incarnational) “embodiments”: This is not only one man.
Although he tried variously to adapt his idealism to the changing social circumstances of mid-nineteenth-century America, his nonmaterialist thinking would not easily permit it. As John Carlos Rowe argues in Emerson’s Tomb, When Emerson in the mid-1840s did turn seriously to political issues of his day—women’s rights and the abolition of slavery, he was faced with the problem of adapting his transcendentalism to the pragmatics of political activism. , HARD WORK AND BLOOD 23 regarding slavery and women’s rights) would seem to be fundamentally at odds with his transcendentalism, the anticommunal, ahistorical aspects of his philosophy, and that philosophy’s potential to inspire social reform.
Class is, arguably, the greatest burden of writers of nineteenthcentury America who were dealing with a new formation of a nation. For me, Whitman’s fashion of dealing with this burden transposes into a language of inclusion and coexistence, anonymous intimacies, and relations other than those of hierarchy, “literariness,” elitism, and classification. The multiplicity of class, for Whitman, elides into a cultural program: I should demand a programme of culture, drawn out, not for a single class alone, or for the parlors or lecture-rooms, but with an eye to HARD WORK AND BLOOD 43 practical life, the west, the working-men, the facts of farms and jackplanes and engineers, and of the broad range of women also of the middle and working strata, and with reference to the perfect equality of women, and of a grand and powerful motherhood.
Narrating Class in American Fiction by William Dow