Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Regionalism: Brodhead & Jewett

This image is Winslow Homer's "The Berry Pickers" (1873), which depicts genteel vacationers in Maine, reflecting the dynamic Richard Brodhead describes as central to the literary regionalism of the post-Civil War era in our reading for today "The Reading of Regions."

--How does Brodhead explain why regionalist fiction--about backward or underdeveloped parts of the US--were so popular in the post-Civil War era?

--How does Brodhead explain the "elite" or wealthy interest in regionalist fiction, given that the subjects of regionalist fiction are so often poor people in these underdeveloped areas?

--Brodhead talks about a divide that emerges in this same period between "high" and "low" culture (by that he means entertainment choices, among other things), a divide that helped to establish social distinctions between the rich and poor. To what extent do you think there is still "high" and "low" culture and that it operates to distinguish between classes? In what ways do college classes, like this English class you are now taking (or others), function to teach you to make cultural distinctions (between high and low, good or bad)? Do these classes re-inforce social distinctions?

--On to Jewett: she obviously fits regionalist forms, but how does her vision of New England as a place, a region or a character-type fit with what we've seen from Whittier or Thoreau?

--What is the relation of the observer/writer/narrator to the people of Dunnet's Landing?


  1. I do believe that there is a large distinction between the high and low class. I think within the 20th and 21st century the middle class has emerged but I do think that there are definite distinctions between each class. The idea of distinguishing people in classes by how many vacations they go on is not as prevalent but I do think that we have many distinctions that help us classify people into different groups. I believe in our society and culture we obviously divide people into classes by their income. I also think in our society we tend to distinguish people by materialistic objects like cars, jewelry, houses, etc. In my experience in college, I don't think my teachers enforce social distinctions, I think they make us aware of them and educate us about them. I believe our culture and our own knowledge make us aware of these social distinctions.

  2. I agree with Beth very much and would like to comment further on that question. In English college classes I have taken, and the two I am currently taking this semester (this one included) I don't feel the teachers in these classes reinforce social distinctions, however perhaps our mentality and reason for taking the class, as well as our own personal culture, social life as well as knowledge of the course perhaps reinforce social distinctions that may occur in the class. What I mean by that, is perhaps we see similar people of similar class in most of our English classes, however that may simply fall in the category of similar interest. The social class we grow up in, shapes our interests.

    With that said, I personally see very few things in common with several of my classmates from years past strictly because my personality may not fit that of someone with interest in English or reading. However, I have a lot of interest in writing. Getting back on point, teachers don't reinforce or enforce social distinctions, they bring the facts and ideas to our knowledge and make us aware of the things going on around us.

    Then again, I will close with, the people in college in many ways represent a social class of their own. Sure with the benefit of financial aid the idea of college as something only for students in the middle to high social class isn't as prevalent, but it still in many ways exist I feel. As Beth mentioned, the differences between High and Low class certainly aren't as distinct as they once were with the development of the so called "middle" class. But there is a big difference nevertheless.

  3. What is the relation of the observer/writer/narrator to the people of Dunnet's Landing?

    -I think the relationship between the narrator and the people of Dunnet's Landing is a complex one. The narrator observes what goes around her with so much detail and personality. I remember one passage in particular that I thought was such a great example of the narrator's own personal opinions. When she initially describes Captain Littlepage on page 12, she describes him as, "an aged grasshoper of some strange human variety." She later goes on to imagine him hopping rather than walking around. The reason I find this relationship to be so complex, is although she seeks total isolation, she still feels lonely. Although the people are very kind to her, Mrs. Todd in particular, she knows she is still an outsider and still feels like one. I find it interesting that she wants to be alone and write her book, yet still feels she wants to be accepted.

  4. I agree there is still a distinction between "high" and "low" classes. There is still a cultural perception that some forms of entertainment are more highly regarded, perhaps for their educational value, or maybe just the price of the tickets. Someone may be thought of as "high" class if they choose to see plays rather than movies.

    While I believe there may be distinctions in class regarding entertainment, I also think that American culture has become more homogeneous in its class structure. I learned in my political science class that at least 95% of Americans consider themselves middle class. Although economical statistics disagree with that, culture and class systems is predominately culturally based. Even though the overwhelmingly majority of Americans consider themselves middle class, there are still distinctions made, for we naturally want to group ourselves.

    After taking many literature courses, I feel as though at times I become an elitist. I love reading, but I find myself judging English majors that read a great deal of genre fiction. At some point in my college career, I started making distinctions between good and bad literature, and what is better to read. I think this is something that is enforced through a classroom setting, and illustrates a type of cultural distinction. It is a higher entertainment to read a novel, than to watch a television show.

  5. Sarah Orne Jewett's work operates differently than what we have seen from Whittier and Thoreau. The latter authors tend to express the region as an observer. Whittier is almost entirely observant as well as Thoreau. However, the difference between these two works is that Thoreau ties a loose narrative to his work by explaining his philosophy through a weeks trip down the Merrimack. Sarah Orne Jewett blends the role of narrator, writer and observer in her work. Unlike Thoreau, Jewett buries her philosophy and themes within dialogue and narrative. However, this could simply be explained by the genre of writing that each writer operated in. Jewett immerses the narrator within the culture of Dunnet's Landing, which makes the reader feel as if he or she is standing beside the narrator or is the narrator themself. I prefer this much more to observing. The story of Joanna and William become much more compelling and lively as its told within a narrative. The reader is allow to explore the region with the character and learns of local habits, dialect and colorful urban legends. It's seems to boil down to the simple fact of learning and doing. You can only learn so much through reading and schooling but experience is vital to understanding. I think The Country of Pointed Firs gives you that sense of experience that only Thoreau and Whittier describe. While there is much to be gained from Thoreau and Whittier's method, Jewett's method is much more descriptive, engaging, and ultimately, more effective.

  6. I actually really enjoyed reading this. The introduction says that "many students of literature find the book frustrating -even, at times, maddening -in its refusal to tell a coherent tale" (ix). But I find it fun. It's like reading a diary, and it allows you to take breaks as opposed to drudging through a text. The text is easy and flowing. It helps me to specifically imagine the scenery.
    I agree that the narrator's relationship with the people of Dunnet's Landing is complex. She goes looking for a secluded and quiet place to work on her writing, but even though the house is off on its own,it is far from quiet and relaxing. But, even though this is not what she was looking for, she begins to enjoy working with the people. I agree that she remains an outsider though. When she rents the schoolhouse, she realizes how far from being a part of the group she is. The scenery is very important to the story, but not overpowering.

  7. --How does Brodhead explain why regionalist fiction--about backward or underdeveloped parts of the US--were so popular in the post-Civil War era?

    Brodhead explains that regionalism, “extended the opportunity above all to groups traditionally distanced from literary lives” (116). The style focused on place and culture, and featured many styles of writing. It also required familiarity to the undeveloped world to be successful, so it allowed the socially disparaged to become recognizable authors. The need of this type of work spawned from the rapid economic change that followed the civil war, and the sudden want to create eulogies of the old cultural ideals. The idea that the old days were “rapidly fading” became important. However, these works were not written for the social groups they portrayed, but rather for middle class domestic reading. At least that was my grasp of it…

  8. To agree with and expand on what Caitlin said, I think Brodhead things relionalist fiction became popular as the regions being wrote about faded into the background of American culture. In the post-Civil War era, more and more people were moving to large cities and a NEED for this literature arose-"the work of memorializing a culture order passing from life at that moment...a version of a loved thing lost in reality." He seems to be saying that although people loved their lives in the regions written about in this type of literature, they needed to move on and move forward and having this literature to take with them made the whole transformation process much easier.

    He points out that even in the titles of popular regionalist fiction do we see a shift to memories and the past ("Oldport days", "Oldport folks", etc). With that being said-Brodhead also points out that this type of litearary work was not simply a recount of history but a "certain version of modern history." I think it's really interesting to think about literature changing with the world, and I really enjoyed this part of the article.

  9. What is the relation of the observer/writer/narrator to the people of Dunnet's Landing?

    I agree with Cashman that Jewett seeks isolation but is still lonely. There is a passage on page 13 that illustrates this,"for the first time I began to wish for a companion and for news from the outer world." Though Jewett has made friends with the people of the Landing she still finds herself alone. She has not lived in the region enough to truly feel a bond with the people and the surroundings and this makes her lonely and wish for familiar landscapes and people. Her relationship with the people of the Landing is one of distance as she does not feel as if she is one of them.


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