The Midwestern Novel

Literary Populism from Huckleberry Finn to the Present


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About the Book

With Huckleberry Finn, American fiction changed radically and shifted its setting to the middle of the country. A focus on social issues replaced the philosophic and psychological explorations that dominated the work of Melville and Hawthorne. Colloquial speech rather than elevated language articulated these fresh ideas, while common folk rather than dramatic characters like Ahab and Hester Prynne played central roles.
This transformation of American literature has been largely ignored, while during the 130 years since Huckleberry Finn the Midwest has continued to produce writers whose work, like Twain’s, addresses injustice by portraying the decency of ordinary people. Since the end of the 19th century, Midwestern authors have dismissed the elite and celebrated those whom the power structure typically excludes: children, women, African-Americans and the lower classes. Instead of wealth and power, this literature values authenticity and compassion. The book explores this literary tradition by examining the work of 30 Midwestern writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Jane Smiley and Louise Erdrich.

About the Author(s)

Nancy Bunge, a professor at Michigan State University, has held senior Fulbright lectureships at the University of Vienna, the Free University of Brussels, the University of Ghent and the University of Siegen, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Bibliographic Details

Nancy L. Bunge
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 208
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9435-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1785-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface   1
Introduction   5
One. Conformity’s Consequences   19
Two. The Redemptive Potential of Childhood   49
Three. Valuing Women’s Passion   77
Four. The ­African American Dimension   104
Five. Surrendering to Nature   130
Six. Relaxing into Compassion   151
Chapter Notes   175
Bibliography   185
Index   193