Orphans and American literature
Texts, intertexts, and contexts
in Making home
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This chapter situates the study in both literary and socio-historical contexts, focusing on earlier discussions of the American orphan figure in literary and social history and elaborating especially on literature as cultural memory. The chapter traces the central position of orphans in nineteenth-century American literary history as it has been constructed in the twentieth century; orphans have played major roles in a dominant white male tradition in criticism, but also in gendered and ethnic challenges to that tradition. Previous critical discussions of orphans typically focus on children’s literature, or on nineteenth-century literature, but nevertheless offer useful insights into the historically shifting roles and cultural work of orphan characters, linked to social and political developments in the US. The chapter also addresses ideas of the orphan, childhood, and family, and how these ideas operate in social and academic debates over multiculturalism, the US canon, and national belonging.

Making home

Orphanhood, kinship, and cultural memory in contemporary American novels

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