Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Overview


American literature abounds with orphans who experience adoption or placements that resemble adoption. These narratives do more than describe adventures of children living away from home. They tell an American story of family and national identity. In literature from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, adoption functions as narrative event and trope to recount the American migratory experience, the impact of Calvinist faith, and the growth of democratic ...
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Overview


American literature abounds with orphans who experience adoption or placements that resemble adoption. These narratives do more than describe adventures of children living away from home. They tell an American story of family and national identity. In literature from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, adoption functions as narrative event and trope to recount the American migratory experience, the impact of Calvinist faith, and the growth of democratic individualism.

The literary roots of adoption appear in the discourse of Puritan settlers, who ambivalently took leave of their birth country and portrayed themselves as abandoned offspring. Believing they were chosen children of God, they also prayed for spiritual adoption and emulated God's grace by extending adoption to others. Nineteenth-century literature develops from this idea of adoption as salvation and from simultaneous attachments to the Old World and New. In fiction of the mid-nineteenth century, adoption also reflects the importance of nurture in childrearing and the nation's increased mobility. Middle-class concerns over immigration and urbanization appear in the form of orphancy and are addressed through adoption. For some, adoption signals a fresh start and the opportunity for success without genealogical constraints. Other times, particularly for girls and children of color, it suggests dependence, reflecting contemporary gender and racial biases.

A complex signifier of difference, adoption gives voice to concurrent and sometimes contradictory calls to origins and new beginnings; to feelings of worthiness and unworthiness. In writings from John Winthrop and Cotton Mather to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Edith Wharton, Carol Singley reveals how adoption both replicates and challenges genealogical norms, evoking ambivalence and playing a foundational role in the shaping of many of our most dearly held national mythologies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Singley's very timely and original re-reading of many classic texts proves once more that we students of the canon never exhaust it. Such rich books as The Scarlet Letter and Our Nig, Little Women, Summer, and others spring to new life under Singley's careful (and historically informed) analysis. An excellent addition to the burgeoning scholarship on childhood and American literature." --Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina

"Singley has produced an impressive piece of scholarship that shows the centrality of adoption issues to American literature. Adopting America should appeal not only to scholars of literature, but also to anyone interested in adoption in relation to history, sociology, psychology, or their own lives." --Marianne Novy, University of Pittsburgh

"Adopting America presents an excellent and thoroughly researched overview of a timely topic--the relation of familial constructs to forms of adoption in the literature of the United States. With readings of works by writers ranging from Ben Franklin to Edith Wharton, Singley has crafted a book that will attract scholars of American literature and culture for years to come." --Shirley Samuels, Cornell University

"Wide ranging, clearly written, and well informed, Adopting America provides detailed readings of canonical and little known adoption texts against the backdrop of Americans' changing attitudes toward child rearing and nation from Puritan times through the First World War. Carol Singley's new book is a valuable contribution to adoption studies." --Claudia Nelson, Texas A&M University

"This book succeeds admirably...through deep historical contextualization and close literary analysis of theme and form." --New England Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199985777
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/1/2013
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol J. Singley is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Camden. She is the author of Edith Wharton: Matters of Mind and Spirit and the coeditor, with Caroline Levander, of The American Child: A Cultural Studies Reader.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

1 Abandoned and Adopted in a New World

2 Problems of Patrimony: Benjamin Franklin and Ann Sargent Gage

3 Adoption Averted in The Scarlet Letter

4 Plotting Adoption: Dependence and Independence

5 Child Saving, Nation Building: The Wide, Wide World and The Lamplighter

6 Servitude and Homelessness: Harriet Wilson's Our Nig

7 The Limits of Nurture: Louisa May Alcott's Adoption Fiction

8 Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton's Summer

Index

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