American Hungers: The Problem of Poverty in U.S. Literature, 1840-1945

Princeton University Press
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Social anxiety about poverty surfaces with startling frequency in American literature. Yet, as Gavin Jones argues, poverty has been denied its due as a critical and ideological framework in its own right, despite recent interest in representations of the lower classes and the marginalized. These insights lay the groundwork for American Hungers, in which Jones uncovers a complex and controversial discourse on the poor that stretches from the antebellum era through the Depression.

Reading writers such as Herman Melville, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, James Agee, and Richard Wright in their historical contexts, Jones explores why they succeeded where literary critics have fallen short. These authors acknowledged a poverty that was as aesthetically and culturally significant as it was socially and materially real. They confronted the ideological dilemmas of approaching poverty while giving language to the marginalized poor--the beggars, tramps, sharecroppers, and factory workers who form a persistent segment of American society. Far from peripheral, poverty emerges at the center of national debates about social justice, citizenship, and minority identity. And literature becomes a crucial tool to understand an economic and cultural condition that is at once urgent and elusive because it cuts across the categories of race, gender, and class by which we conventionally understand social difference.

Combining social theory with literary analysis, American Hungers masterfully brings poverty into the mainstream critical idiom.

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About the author

Gavin Jones is professor of English at Stanford University. He is the author of Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 12, 2009
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9781400831913
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / General
Literary Criticism / American / General
Literary Criticism / General
Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations
Social Science / Poverty & Homelessness
Social Science / Social Classes & Economic Disparity
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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J. D. Vance
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

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But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Matt Taibbi
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST, NPR, AND KIRKUS REVIEWS

A scathing portrait of an urgent new American crisis
 
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Praise for The Divide
 
“Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
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From the Hardcover edition.
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