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Unformatted text preview: University of Iowa Iowa Research Online Theses and Dissertations Summer 2018 Eating the American dream: food, ethnicity, and assimilation in American literary realism, 1893 - 1918 Stephanie A. Tsank University of Iowa Follow this and additional works at: Part of the English Language and Literature Commons Copyright © 2018 Stephanie A. Tsank This dissertation is available at Iowa Research Online: Recommended Citation Tsank, Stephanie A.. "Eating the American dream: food, ethnicity, and assimilation in American literary realism, 1893 - 1918." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2018. Follow this and additional works at: Part of the English Language and Literature Commons EATING THE AMERICAN DREAM: FOOD, ETHNICITY, AND ASSIMILATION IN AMERICAN LITERARY REALISM, 1893 1918 by Stephanie A. Tsank A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in English in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa August 2018 Thesis Supervisors: Associate Professor Harilaos Stecopoulos Associate Professor Doris Witt Copyright by Stephanie A. Tsank 2018 All Rights Reserved Graduate College The University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL ____________________________ PH.D. THESIS _________________ This is to certify that the Ph.D. thesis of Stephanie A. Tsank has been approved by the Examining Committee for the thesis requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in English at the August 2018 graduation. Thesis Committee: ____________________________________________ Harilaos Stecopoulos, Thesis Supervisor ____________________________________________ Doris Witt, Thesis Supervisor ____________________________________________ Loren Glass ____________________________________________ Bluford Adams ____________________________________________ Miriam Thaggert “I believe that if the reader will use care in choosing from this fungus-growth with which the fields of literature teem every day, he may nourish himself as with the true mushroom, at no risk from the poisonous species.” William Dean Howells Criticism and Fiction ii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First and foremost, I would like to thank my mentors, Harry Stecopoulos and Doris Witt, without whom this project would not exist. Both of you have provided intellectually rigorous feedback and continuous encouragement throughout the entire writing process, and have shaped me into the scholar I am today. I also extend my deepest thanks to Loren Glass, Bluford Adams, and Miriam Thaggert for contributing their valuable time and energy to this project. I am incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful women in my life—too many to name. I would like to thank Katlyn Williams, Angela Toscano, Lauren Rosales, Annemarie Pearson, Danielle Kennedy, and Annmarie Steffes—my allies in all things intellectual and ludicrous. I would also like to thank Victoria Muchnik, with whom my life is forever intertwined. Your daily comradery keeps me afloat. It is with my deepest gratitude that I also thank my partner, Jeff Shuter. We first met during our initial year in our respective doctoral programs, and here we are, together in our last. I would not have been able to do this kind of demanding work without your intellectual spirit, your positivity, and your kindness. You have, more than anyone, created a space—and a home— for me to thrive in my work and life. Finally, as anyone who has ever been part of an immigrant Russian Jewish family knows, frequently calling home is a requirement. I have undoubtedly spent more time on the phone with my family than on pages I’ve written, classes I’ve taught, and books I’ve read. I cannot begin to return what I owe to my mother, Alla, who has grown to be one of my closest confidants, and to my babushka—my fiery grandmother, who in her 80s, sat night after night with a RussianEnglish dictionary to read and understand my scholarly work, perhaps better than anyone. This dissertation is for you. iii ABSTRACT This project examines how late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century writers used food imagery and scenes of consumption to characterize immigrants in works of American literary realism. I argue that William Dean Howells’s construction of realism—supported by the publishing industry’s elitism—reinforced existing cultural and class hierarchies by perpetuating divisions between narrator and subject, native and immigrant. Tacitly responding to the ideologies of Howellsian realism, writers Stephen Crane, Sarah Orne Jewett, James Weldon Johnson, and Willa Cather used food scenes to promote cultural pluralism, or alternately, to replicate the hierarchal narrative structures underpinning the genre. At the same time, these writers responded to traditional formulations of the relationship between identity and consumption as enforced by a long-standing hierarchy of the senses, women’s domestic reform movements, and the industrialization and corporatization of the food industry at the century’s turn. The chapters of this project examine different facets of realism: naturalism, regionalism, the passing narrative, and the turn toward modernism, respectively. Each chapter also explores different aspects of American culinary history, including debates about the sensory body, the rise of domestic science and early home economics, and the mass production of food—all important developments that shaped the way Americans understood the role of food and eating in their lives. By focusing on the parallel ideological imperatives of consumption and narration within American literary realism, this study provides a more comprehensive view of how power was constituted at the century’s turn based on ideas about how individuals should consume the world around them, and furthermore, how one’s approaches to consumption could be a means of obtaining—or forfeiting—claims to national citizenship. iv PUBLIC ABSTRACT American realism, a literary genre spanning from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I, was invested in “realistically” depicting the lives of ordinary people through literature. However, many practitioners of realism and its advocates were typically part of the middle to upper classes, thereby already ensuring that their depiction of “reality” was often inherently flawed. This project examines how four writers of the period responded to realism’s ideological constraints by using food scenes to depict immigrant characters, in the process either reinforcing or undermining the social hierarchies perpetuated by the genre. In turn, these writers also used food in their works to comment on dominant ideas about consumption popularized by dietetic reform movements and transformations in the culinary landscape at large, which shaped notions about how, what, and how much Americans should eat. Food studies scholars have only begun to examine how food and scenes of eating function in literary texts, thereby making this study’s readings crucial to a deeper understanding of the role of food, eating, and consumption in literature more broadly. Furthermore, although scholarly discussions of realism are numerous, no project yet exists that examines, at length, how food operates within works associated with realism. Tracing culinary and narrative ideologies as parallel histories, this project illustrates how together, they shaped ideas about nationality, citizenship, and what constitutes the “ideal” American at the turn of the twentieth century. v TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION: THE MELTING POT REVISITED: THE HEIGHT OF REALISM, MASS IMMIGRATION, AND CULINARY TRANSFORMATION.………..………………….1 CHAPTER ONE: INSIDE MARY JOHNSON’S MOUTH: SENSING THE SLUMS IN STEPHEN CRANE’S MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS…...…………………...……..26 CHAPTER TWO: MRS. TOLLAND’S HERBS AND NARRATIVE SUBVERSION IN SARAH ORNE JEWETT’S “THE FOREIGNER” AND THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS………………………………………...…...………………………………...…73 CHAPTER THREE: (IN)ASSIMILABLE TASTES: SOUTHERN CUISINE AND CHOP SUEY IN JAMES WELDON JOHNSON’S THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN…………..…………………………………………………….…114 CHAPTER FOUR: ON MUSHROOMS AND MELONS: WILLA CATHER’S MY ÁNTONIA, FETISHIZING FOREIGNNESS, AND THE DOMESTIC SCIENCE MOVEMENT…………………………………………………………………………………..160 BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………..………..…………………………..………..…202 vi INTRODUCTION THE MELTING POT REVISITED: THE HEIGHT OF REALISM, MASS IMMIGRATION, AND CULINARY TRANSFORMATION In Israel Zangwill’s play The Melting Pot, first performed on the New York stage in 1906, moments of conflict and resolution are often set into motion by references to characters’ native foods and culinary habits, particularly in the Quixanos’ Orthodox Jewish household. When Kathleen, the Quixanos’ Irish maid, grows frustrated at the family’s restrictive kosher practices and threatens to quit, complaining, “Mate-plates, butther-plates, kosher, trepha, sure I’ve smashed up folks’ crockery and they makin’ less fuss ouver it” (5), David Quixano, the play’s protagonist, appeases her with a nostalgic food reference they both share. At the end of Act I, he reminisces, “I still remember the heavenly taste of a piece of Motso [my grandmother] gave me dipped in raisin wine!” (47), to which Kathleen “proudly” replies, “Oh, I know Motso” (47). Zangwill doesn’t clarify Kathleen’s connection to Motso, but, as a result of this exchange— in which David uses culinary nostalgia to re-endear his religious, Jewish grandmother to his Irish maid—she decides to stay. This narrative arc begins and ends the first act, thereby both introducing and resolving a moment of interpersonal and cultural conflict through food. David and Kathleen are no longer estranged American immigrants with wholly different customs and expressions—they have found a common point of interest that is memorable and enduring because of its cultural and sensory significance. Such moments of culinary exchange, reflective of Zangwill’s melting pot dream, occur frequently within American realist texts. Like Zangwill’s use of traditional Jewish foods and religious culinary customs to characterize the Quixanos, specific foods and scenes of consumption in American literary realism are often used by authors to describe and identify 1 ethnic and immigrant groups. However, unlike the facile assimilationist dream Zangwill’s melting pot implies, the appearance of food in realist texts exposes the existence of a multitude of lived realities that cannot be consumed as a tidy narrative of unilateral progress. As culinary historian Jennifer Jensen Wallach has argued, “American food choices reveal a great deal about who people living in the United States were or sometimes wished to be” (xiii). Indeed, culinary practices not only reinforced existing social norms but also had the potential to summon diverse realities and conflicting identities into being. Literary realism was similarly engaged in ongoing discourses of cultural representation, caught between its own idealism and the grim realities of social life in America. Reading realism alongside culinary history and the cultural markers surrounding food and eating provides further insight into how national belonging was constituted by dominant ideological systems and how, through dietetic reform efforts, culinary cosmopolitanism, and abstract constructions of identity, non-dominant ethnic and racial groups were either pushed toward an accepted version of citizenship or largely barred from participating in the nation’s progress. The authors I examine in this project—namely Stephen Crane, Sarah Orne Jewett, James Weldon Johnson, and Willa Cather—use traditionally “ethnic” foods to characterize and identify immigrants as distinctly “Other” 1; yet, they also often disrupt reigning cultural and social hierarchies made painfully, and sometimes violently, visible by latenineteenth and early-twentieth-century Anglo-American mores. In the late nineteenth century, American literary realism flourished as a genre in which writers attempted to depict and, in turn, demystify the complexities of the social world evolving To theorize the concept of the “Other,” I borrow from Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, who show how the bourgeois class differentiates itself and shapes its own identity by dividing society into categories such as high versus low, polite versus vulgar, civilized versus uncivilized. These “lower” categories, then, which are considered “Other,” “return as the object of nostalgia, longing and fascination” (191). This process, according to Stallybrass and White, is the backbone of middle-class identity formation. As the culinary and literary history of this project will show, this process of “Othering” made itself especially visible in these exact realms of cultural exchange. 1 2 around them.2 Immigration from Europe, Asia, Central America, and other continents accelerated throughout the nineteenth century, bringing changes to the character and makeup of American society and culture, as immigrants transported with them their diverse culinary habits, traditions, and religious affiliations. The United States increasingly diversified; in fact, by 1910, one third of the population was foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent (Painter xxix-xxx). This influx of immigrants meant that the supply for cheap labor superseded demand, which gave managers leeway to maintain dangerous work environments and unlivable wages. Meanwhile, the rise of industrial capitalism heralded the mechanization of labor, which both streamlined and complicated Americans’ lives, as more efficient production meant that certain workers’ skills became less valued. Massive labor strikes ensued, and workers vied for unions, higher pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. At the same time, the rapid transformation of visual technologies, transportation systems, and the large-scale growth of corporations and mass advertising influenced how Americans interacted with each another and consumed the world. Developments like canning, refrigeration, and railway expansion made a variety of foods accessible to a wider range of communities, yet also contributed to the homogenization of culture that many feared was an inevitable and unpalatable feature of modernity. Amid these demographic and technological changes, society became increasingly more stratified along class and race lines: the chasm between the working class and the middle and upper classes intensified, while American imperialism and pseudoscientific racism flourished. The emergence of the “super elite” at the end of the nineteenth century and the persistence of the 2 Various scholars have in one way or another explored this notion; for example, Alan Trachtenberg reads realism as “an aspect of the middle-class effort to grasp and define ‘reality,’ to identify America with distinct cultural meanings” (Incorporation 9), and Amy Kaplan likewise suggests that realism “[uses] fiction to combat the fictionality of everyday life…[constructing] a new sense of the real” (20). 3 myth of upward mobility were accompanied by severe income inequality (Finn 76). As restrictive legislation like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 continued to serve as a mechanism to police United States’ borders, projects of expansion such as Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis, the Spanish American (1898) and Philippine American Wars (1899-1902), and gunboat diplomacy in Central America and the Caribbean intensified national discussions about race and simultaneously strengthened the nation’s imperialist and exclusionary rhetoric. Meanwhile, in a punitive reversal of political gains negotiated for Africans Americans during Reconstruction, the final decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the birth of Jim Crow legislation, as lynching and racial violence against black Americans rose at an unprecedented rate. Many immigrant groups were similarly targeted and stereotyped as unfit for American citizenship, such as the Irish and the Chinese, both of whom, like African Americans, were routinely denigrated in mass and popular print and visual culture, and were frequent targets of ethnic violence. The nineteenth century was also home to a consistent and pervasive tension between domestic conservatism and a burgeoning cosmopolitanism, which was especially visible in the culinary realm (McWilliams, Food and the Novel 2). Dietetic reform movements targeted at the urban poor and middle class alike aimed to alter and homogenize the nation’s consumption in the name of national unity, health, and progress. Many Americans built a national “imagined community”3 not only through novels and newspapers, but also through the shared consumption of mass-produced and commercialized food products like cereals, crackers, and condiments manufactured by burgeoning industry giants Kellogg, Nabisco, and Heinz—products that dietetic reformers supported due to their supposed cleanliness and uniformity. On the other end of the 3 Benedict Anderson famously argues in Imagined Communities (1983) that novels and newspapers, through the clocking of “homogenous, empty time” (33), connect a nation’s people, and thus in part provide the backbone for nationhood and the emotional attachments accompanying the idea of nationhood. 4 spectrum, members of the upper classes participated in what sociologist Thorstein Veblen dubbed “conspicuous consumption,” a phenomenon describing one’s tendency to make visible their consumption of food, clothing, and other material goods as a marker of wealth and status. 4 Rich patrons —including writers such as Mark Twain and Henry James—routinely enjoyed luxurious, multi-course meals at restaurants such as Delmonico’s in New York City, which almost single-handedly popularized classic French cuisine throughout the nineteenth century (McWilliams, “Conspicuous Consumption” 36). Thus, while conservative reformers sought to strip immigrants’ diets of their variety, Americans belonging to the upper classes frequently participated in lavish feasts privileging the spectacle and variety of eating. Altogether, these profound changes in the lives of nineteenth-century Americans ensured that discussions about the relationship between immigration, race, consumption, and imperialism and the construction of individual and national identity remained at the forefront of the United States’ legislative and cultural politics. Realism, in some ways a reaction to previous decades’ sentimentalism, sought to do away with fantastical tropes, moral idealism, and sensationalism in literature, and focused on the mundanity of everyday life, including marginal spaces and groups that had not yet received their due in American letters. 5 William Dean Howells—editor of the Atlantic for a decade, columnist for Harper’s, prolific author, mentor, and consequently American realism’s most vocal Carrie Meeber’s indoctrination into the world of excess in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) serves as an example of Veblen’s theory, as she is consistently fueled by her desire to consume everything around her from clothing, food, art, literature, and other material objects. Indeed, many scholars have at length interpreted Dreiser’s novel as a commentary on excess materialism and conspicuous consumption. 4 5 Although many scholars read realism exclusively as a reaction to romanticism and sentimentalism—and I do agree that it is useful to acknowledge this framework, especially in terms of what Howells claimed realism would do—it is important to consider how elements of sentimentalism, didacticism, and other aspects of romanticism routinely appear in texts typically associated with realism, especially at the fin de siècle. As Nancy Glazener points out, the late nineteenth century experienced a “romantic revival” helped along by the establishment of the eight-hour workday for U.S. laborers, who now had more time to consume literature and feed their desire for vicarious “pleasurable adve...
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