Freak Shows And The Modern American Imagination

Overview

Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination examines the artistic use of freak shows between 1900 and 1950. During this period, the freak show shifted from a highly popular and profitable form of entertainment to a reviled one. But why? And how does this response reflect larger social changes in the United States at the time? Artists responded to this change by using the freakish body as a tool for exploring problematic social attitudes about race, disability, and sexual desire in American culture. The freak ...

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Overview

Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination examines the artistic use of freak shows between 1900 and 1950. During this period, the freak show shifted from a highly popular and profitable form of entertainment to a reviled one. But why? And how does this response reflect larger social changes in the United States at the time? Artists responded to this change by using the freakish body as a tool for exploring problematic social attitudes about race, disability, and sexual desire in American culture. The freak body in art not only reveals disturbing truths about early twentieth-century prejudices, but it also becomes a space for exploring the profound social impact of contemporary events such as the Great Migration, World War I, and the Great Depression.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This eloquent and accessible book enhances our understanding of how and why our cultural imagination has given us the figure of 'the freak.' Fahy mines culture and literature with skill, excavating the often unnoticed and frequently misunderstood freaks for us to ponder. With great insight, he reveals the cultural work we ask these fellow humans to do on behalf of those of us who can somehow escape such a category."—Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Emory University

"This is a compelling and engaging book that makes a significant contribution to the field of literary studies. Fahy argues convincingly that the freak show imprinted itself on the artistic imagination of early twentieth-century American writers. Some of the most important figures in American literature (William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck, and Truman Capote) used either freak shows or images of the freakish body (drawing on the conventions of this entertainment) to address issues of difference in American culture. For Fahy, the freak show in American literature functions as a metaphor for problematic constructions of race, gender, sexuality, and disability in modern society. By focusing his study on the last forty years of the freak-show's mainstream popularity (1900-1940), he maps out a trajectory of troubling social attitudes during one of the most important periods in American literary history-modernism."—Kristin Ringleberg, Elon University

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Thomas Fahy is an assistant professor of English and Director of the American Studies Program at Long Island University. His other books include a monograph on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera (2003), two novels, Night Visions (2004) and The Unspoken (2007), and several edited collections—Considering Alan Ball (2006), Considering Aaron Sorkin (2005), Captive Audience: Prison and Captivity in Contemporary Theater (2003), and Peering Behind the Curtain: Disability, Illness and the Extraordinary Body in Contemporary Theater (2002).

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Table of Contents

Introduction * "Helpless Meanness": Constructing the Black Body as Freakish Spectacle
• War-Injured Bodies: Fallen Soldiers in American Propaganda and the Works of John Dos Passos, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner
• Worn, Damaged Bodies in the Great Depression: FSA Photography and the Fiction of John Steinbeck, Tillie Olsen, and Nathanael West
• "Some Unheard-of Thing": Freaks, Families, and Coming of Age in Carson McCullers and Truman Capote's Breakfast at Brian's
Epilogue

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