Cultural Orphans in America

Cultural Orphans in America

Diana Loercher Pazicky
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvj07
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Orphans in America
    Book Description:

    Images of orphanhood have pervaded American fiction since the colonial period. Common in British literature, the orphan figure in American texts serves a unique cultural purpose, representing marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious groups that have been scapegoated by the dominant culture. Among these groups are the Native Americans, the African Americans, immigrants, and Catholics. In keeping with their ideological function, images of orphanhood occur within the context of family metaphors in which children represent those who belong to the family, or the dominant culture, and orphans represent those who are excluded from it. In short, the family as an institution provides the symbolic stage on which the drama of American identity formation is played out.

    Applying aspects of psychoanalytic theory that pertain to identity formation, specifically RenéGirard's theory of the scapegoat, Cultural Orphans in America examines the orphan trope in early American texts and the antebellum nineteenth-century American novel as a reaction to the social upheaval and internal tensions generated by three major episodes in American history: the Great Migration, the American Revolution, and the rise of the republic. In Puritan religious texts and Anne Bradstreet's poetry, orphan imagery expresses the doubt and uncertainty that shrouded the mission to the New World. During the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods, the separation of the colony from England inspired an identification with orphanhood in Thomas Paine's writings, and novels by Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper encode in orphan imagery the distinction be-tween Native Americans and the new Americans who have usurped their position as children of the land. In women's sentimental fiction of the 1850s, images of orphanhood mirror class and ethnic conflict, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, like Frederick Douglass's autobiographies, employs orphan imagery to suggest the slave's orphanhood from the human as well as the national family.

    Diana Loercher Pazicky has taught multi-ethnic literature at Rider University and is currently a member of the Integration of Knowledge Department at Bucks County Community College. She was formerly a staff correspondent for theChristian Science Monitor.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-093-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    This book is about orphans, real and imaginary, in early America and what their actual treatment and textual representation signify about cultural values. This book is also about how the past is the present, how the legacy of early America—of the Puritans, the revolutionaries, the Founding Fathers, and the leaders of the new republic—has shaped the “family values” that are a social and political touchstone in our culture today.

    Images of orphanhood have pervaded the American imagination ever since the colonial period. The orphan appears in varying degrees of intensity—sometimes as palpable presence, other times as mere...

  4. Chapter One The Puritans as Orphans
    (pp. 1-24)

    The most important secular institution in Puritan culture was the family. The family was not only the primary source of stability and security but a model for social and political institutions that incorporated its patriarchal and hierarchical structure. The family model also influenced the nature of interaction with other groups and cultures. Despite the earlier belief that the Puritan family was an extended unit that embraced a range of generations and relatives, more recent scholarship points to its nuclear nature. As John Demos asserts inA Little Commonwealth, “It is now apparent ... that small and essentially nuclear families were...

  5. Chapter Two The Puritans as Aggressors
    (pp. 25-50)

    In terms of their social attitudes, the Puritans were marked by nothing so much as their insularity, their antagonistic, exclusionary policy toward those whom they viewed as different. While this policy devolved logically from aspects of Puritan tradition and history, the colonial experience had the effect of calcifying the hermetic social order and encouraging hostile attitudes toward outsiders.

    The Puritans’ deep-seated, underlying insecurity about their mission in the New World, and hence about their identity, put them in the awkward position of having to dispel their sense of orphanhood by whatever means were at their disposal. One tactic, obviously, was...

  6. Chapter Three The Revolution
    (pp. 51-85)

    Following the Great Migration, the next major episode in American history to inspire an effusion of family imagery was the American Revolution. The rupture between England and America revived old memories of the traumatic separation between parent and child and sharpened the distinction between children and orphans, those who belonged to the family of the new republic and those who were effectively excluded from meaningful participation, and even citizenship, through a variety of legal and socioeconomic restrictions.

    This development can best be understood within the context of the familial rhetoric that pervades Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary texts.¹ In the most thorough...

  7. Chapter Four Tales of Captivity and Adoption
    (pp. 86-117)

    As the previous chapter explained, the xenophobia that manifested itself at the end of the eighteenth century was inseparable from racist attitudes toward the Indians. For the new nation struggling in the aftermath of the Revolution to define the meaning of America, the Indians represented a threat from within whereas the immigrants represented a threat from without. Both also served the purpose of scapegoats who, through their differences, consolidated the unity and power of the “natural aristocracy”—the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant landholders who constituted the dominant culture. Displacing their post-revolutionary identification with orphanhood onto these scapegoats, the republican “fathers” resembled...

  8. Chapter Five The Rise of the Republic
    (pp. 118-148)

    Metaphorically speaking, the Revolution entailed a reconfiguration of the family in which sons replaced fathers, first through violent overthrow and then through generational succession. With the formation of the republic, the notion of citizenship became fundamental, and the Founding Fathers distinguished between natural children who belonged by birthright to the family of the republic and unadoptable orphans, Indians and Negroes, who circled like restless shadows outside its narrow embrace. But there gradually appeared a third category of children, adoptable orphans, or foreigners, who could become naturalized citizens. While naturalization laws appeared to signify a liberalization of earlier Puritan attitudes toward...

  9. Chapter Six Sentimental Strategies in “Orphan Tales”
    (pp. 149-177)

    Because orphans were such a ubiquitous and disturbing presence in mid-nineteenth-century American cities, it is hardly surprising that they figure so prominently in sentimental fiction. What is surprising, however, is that fictional orphans are so unrepresentative of society’s real orphans, who were stationary, as opposed to upwardly mobile, members of the underclass. From a cultural standpoint, a literary work can be as important for those aspects of social reality it does not portray as for those it does. Insofar as one can reasonably analyze a novel in terms of a poetics of absence (what is left out) as well as...

  10. Chapter Seven The Negro as Ultimate Orphan
    (pp. 178-202)

    Negroes, like immigrants, were left out of sentimental fiction just as they were left out of the family of the republic. At best, they appear briefly in novels as slaves or servants, and their function tends to be either decorative or comic. In general, they are portrayed as stereotypes rather than fully developed characters. There are, however, a few instances in which Negroes appear as orphans, and these illustrate how the separation of slaves not only from their own families but from the human family reflects the insidious relationship between race and class.

    For example, Lydia Maria Child, who is...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 203-210)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-232)