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Family matters
Euro-American orphans, the bildungsroman, and kinship building
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This chapter focuses on John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (1985), and Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster (1987) and The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster (2006), novels that remember earlier American and English novels to revise the conventions of the bildungsroman and challenge its conventional gender boundaries. In the process, the novels describe the kinship building of the protagonists, who develop complex understandings of kinship ties and a consciously affirmative stance on the value of “alternative family.” Because they are orphans, Irving’s and Gibbons’s protagonists are outsiders, but because they are white they may still lay claim to the dominant formulation of American identity; and the challenge they launch against the nuclear family ideal may be effectual precisely because they occupy a position of racial privilege.

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Making home

Orphanhood, kinship, and cultural memory in contemporary American novels

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