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Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2015

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

Nicholas Bromell

Second Advisor

Laura Doyle

Third Advisor

Laura Lovett

Fourth Advisor

Karen Sanchez-Eppler

Subject Categories

American Literature | Arts and Humanities

Abstract

‘As Child in Time’ stands at the intersection of literary-historical studies of the 19th century U.S., political theory, and childhood studies. Limning the child’s contested position in cultural imaginings of democracy—at once embodying its ideals and marking its limits—I describe how the child offers a site upon which to demythologize U.S. democracy, yet also offers a vehicle that can meaningfully engage some of the irresolvable tensions fundamental to democratic thought. In particular, this project focuses on the child’s role in conceptualizing what we might call dilemmas of democratic time.

Chapter One examines how Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s The Linwoods stages the anxieties elicited by the desire to perceive democracy as guided by timeless truths, while also recognizing that the democratic process necessarily entails the negotiation of ephemeral opinions, in order to draw out the novel’s self-conscious engagements with democracy at a theoretical level.

Chapter Two examines Ralph Waldo Emerson’s abolitionist thought, following the figure of the child into an exploration of the relationship between transformative political acts and the quality that Emerson calls “newness,” revealing how the child reinvigorates questions about the political value of his transcendentalism.

Chapter Three illuminates how Herman Melville’s Israel Potter uses the title character’s erased youth and foreclosed future to deconstruct exceptionalist narratives emblematized by the rhetoric of the Young America movement, while also locating democratic potentiality in humble moments of the unwritten now.

Chapter Four considers how Frederick Douglass’s insistence that the time for politics is “the ever-living now” inflects his representation of childhood. Where children in abolitionist literature are typically read as rhetorical devices for higher law ideals, this chapter argues that Douglass’s writing resists the displacement of anti-slavery claims from the subjectivities that speak them and from the historical moment in which they are spoken, instead submitting these claims to the actionable now.

The Coda reflects upon our critical moment and the status of “the child” in contemporary political dialogue, suggesting how the exchange between literary study, political theory, and the study of the child might supplement dominant modes of ideological critique with a form of critical “hopefulness.”

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