Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This project seeks a comprehensive understanding of riot as an operating principle in American history and culture---a principle variously revealed in, explored, or obscured by literature produced by popular and political novelists at the turn of the twentieth century. In defining riot as a presence, I identify as central to US history a haunting incoherence between fundamental cherished ideals of representative government and the use of violence or threats of violence to assert the privilege of one group through the subjugation of another.;Because representations influence the way we characterize historical events both prospectively and retrospectively, I conduct my investigation through the reading of iconic and influential literary texts. These literary texts, published broadly between 1880 and 1910, function as historical interventions rather than simple records of the American past. Charles W. Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition (1901), Albion W. Tourgee's A Fool's Errand (1879), and Thomas Dixon, Jr.'s The Leopard's Spots (1902) are set in the present and shape the very cultural context on which they comment. Pauline Carrington Bouve's Their Shadows Before (1899), Mary Johnston's Prisoners of Hope (1898), and Pauline E. Hopkins's Winona (1902) join issues of the past with issues of the present, establishing the continuity of historical events. Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and Sutton Griggs's Imperium in Imperio (1899) are prospective rather than retrospective, confirming the adaptability and embeddedness of riot, its many uses and manifestations in US culture, and its many disguises. Through the privileging of contexts beyond cause and effect, through the exploration of the normal functioning of the society in which these events can and do occur, literature offers a field for exploration of the social and cultural conditions necessary for the violence of riot to occur.
Biggio, Rebecca Skidmore, "The riotous presence in American literature and culture" (2009). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 4442.