The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire

The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire

by Lyn Ellen Bennett, Scott Abbott


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The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire by Lyn Ellen Bennett, Scott Abbott

Barbed wire is made of two strands of galvanized steel wire twisted together for strength and to hold sharp barbs in place. As creative advertisers sought ways to make an inherently dangerous product attractive to customers concerned about the welfare of their livestock, and as barbed wire became commonplace on battlefields and in concentration camps, the fence accrued a fascinating and troubling range of meanings beyond the material facts of its construction.

In The Perfect Fence, Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott explore the multiple uses and meanings of barbed wire, a technological innovation that contributes to America’s shift from a pastoral ideal to an industrial one. They survey the vigorous public debate over the benign or “infernal” fence, investigate legislative attempts to ban or regulate wire fences as a result of public outcry, and demonstrate how the industry responded to ameliorate the image of its barbed product.

Because of the rich metaphorical possibilities suggested by a fence that controls through pain, barbed wire developed into an important motif in works of literature from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Early advertisements proclaimed that barbed wire was “the perfect fence,” keeping “the ins from being outs, and the outs from being ins.” Bennett and Abbott conclude that while barbed wire is not the perfect fence touted by manufacturers, it is indeed a meaningful thing that continues to influence American identities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623495824
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 11/15/2017
Series: Connecting the Greater West Series
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 448,751
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 10.10(h) x 6.60(d)

About the Author

LYN ELLEN BENNETT is professor of history at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. Her research focuses on the American West, gender, and material culture studies. SCOTT ABBOTT is professor of humanities, philosophy, and integrated studies at Utah Valley University. He is the author of five books, most recently, Immortal for Quite Some Time: Fraternal Meditations.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Foreword Sterling Evans xi

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

Part 1 Constructing the Meaning of Barbed Wire in Late Nineteenth-Century America 3

Chapter 1 "Infernal Machines": Debating the Meaning of Barbed Wire Fences in the Media 21

Chapter 2 "Secure and Safe Alike": Legislative Challenges and Inventive Responses 51

Chapter 3 'The Perfect Fence": Selling Barbed Wire 71

Part 2 The Barbed Wire Motif in Literature 121

Chapter 4 "Don't Fence Me In": Barbed Wire in the Western 129

Chapter 5 "Intimate Fences": Barbed Wire in the New West 147

Chapter 6 "The Thorny Fence": Reifying the Religious Metaphor 163

Chapter 7 "I Helped Him Build His Own Fences": Cutting the Wire, Cutting the Lies 181

Conclusion 203

Notes 217

Bibliography 249

Index 263


Woodland Hills, UT

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