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Made in America: Self-Styled Success from Horatio Alger to Oprah Winfrey

Jeffrey Louis Decker
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt5h3
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  • Book Info
    Made in America
    Book Description:

    Presenting the first look at self-made men and women from a multicultural perspective, Jeffrey Louis Decker discusses the emergence of self-starters like Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, Madam C. J. Walker, and Lee Iacocca in relation to the changing consumer markets of the twentieth century. “Lucid and engaging, this is one of those rare academic books that addresses both specialists and general readers.” --Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8850-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxx)

    I locate this book within the long history of commentary that has transformed the self-made man into an archetypal myth and the ethos of entrepreneurial success into the quintessential American dream. At one time, the self-made man was vital to the national identity of the United States. Today, even as politicians campaign on the promise to rekindle the enterprising spirit that made the country great, pundits bemoan the loss of moral character—the very thing that selfmaking was supposed to cultivate in the individual. This book asks the question: What happened to the myth of the self-made man in America?...

  5. 1 Class Mobility
    (pp. 1-14)

    The fact that Horatio Alger’s “luck and pluck” stories reach their peak in popular readership around 1910 has baffled literary historians. His cheap stories of boyhood achievement, although originally published in the second half of the nineteenth century, were reissued posthumously in paperback editions that sold more than one million copies annually by 1910 . More copies sold each year between his death in 1899 until 1920 than they did in his entire lifetime.¹ Editorial abridgments of Alger’s fiction turned what was, in his original work, a moral message with a monetary prize into tales of class mobility. Alger’s portrait...

  6. 2 Gender Stability
    (pp. 15-30)

    Women, like working-class men, rarely occupy center stage in the copious “luck and pluck” stories. The only exception is Alger’sTattered Tom; or, The Story of a Street Arab, where the boy-hero is, in fact, a heroine. Tom, a street sweep in New York City, cross-dresses in order to create and sustain a masculine identity. Her cross-dressing splits the self-identical subject of manly enterprise and exposes it as a social construction. However, the cult of true womanhood ultimately thwarts Tom’s efforts to sustain a masculine identity. The power of domestic ideology frustrates her participation in what Michael Moon labels the...

  7. 3 Racial Segregation
    (pp. 31-52)

    Marketplace segregation was the most severe restraint placed on black entrepreneurship at the turn of the twentieth century. It left many African Americans wondering whether or not Jim Crow truly had the opportunity to become a self-made man. The issue was at the heart of an 1899 publication titledThe Negro in Business, the first systematic investigation of black enterprise in the United States. The book’s editor, W. E. B. Du Bois, opened the Atlanta University study by insisting that it was impossible “to place too great stress on the deep significance of business ventures among American Negroes. Physical emancipation...

  8. 4 Immigrant Aspirations
    (pp. 53-77)

    When twenty-nine-year-old West Indian Marcus Garvey reached the port of New York in March 1916, he stepped ashore and headed for Harlem where he roomed with a Jamaican family. He was not alone in his journey north. Harlem was the final destination for thousands of Caribbean immigrants who joined black Americans from the South in the Great Migration to the urban metropolis. Most newly arrived blacks had worked in rural settings and were now experiencing the unsettling process of proletarianization under an expanding industrial economy attempting to meet the demands of World War I.

    The Back-to-Africa movement known as Garveyism...

  9. 5 Individual Enterprise in the Postfrontier Nation
    (pp. 78-101)

    Prior to the consolidation of post–World War II corporate culture, and even before the onset of the Great Depression, the traditional figure of the self-made man in America was nearing its end.The Great Gatsbyrepresents the diminishing moral authority of uplift stories in an age of declining faith in the nation’s ability to assimilate new immigrants. Through the eyes of Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, Gatsby appears in the guise of the archetypal, if somewhat misguided, self-made man. Gatsby’s upward struggle is inspired by traditional purveyors of middle-class success, such as Ben Franklin and Horatio Alger. However, another less...

  10. 6 The Ends of Self-Making
    (pp. 102-126)

    If the appropriation of the language of individual enterprise by women, blacks, and immigrants delegitimated the traditional selfmade man prior to 1930 , the cold reality of the marketplace during the Great Depression made narratives of upward class mobility almost unimaginable. Yet Americans did not abandon self-culture. Instead, they looked away from narratives of enterprise and toward less monetary models for personal betterment. John Cawelti discovered that the thirties saw the proliferation of self-improvement manuals, such as Dale Carnegie’sHow to Win Friends and Influence People(1936) and Napoleon Hill’sThink and Grow Rich(1937). These tracts rejected what had...

  11. Epilogue: The Return of the Self-Made Man
    (pp. 127-134)

    Although physical fitness has been an occasional ingredient in self-improvement recipes over the past century, it was not until the advent of media culture that it took hold as an integral part of narratives of self-making. Postmodern society—with its focus on depthless image instead of internal reality, celebrity rather than character—found a vehicle for marketing the idea of success in enterprising stories that foregrounded bodily transformations. Is it any wonder, then, that Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the forefront of the self-made man’s rehabilitation? At the opening ofArnold: The Education of a Body-builder, the immigrant from Graz insists:...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 135-160)
  13. Index
    (pp. 161-170)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-171)