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date: 19 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

A review of the texts that comprise the American naturalist canon suggests a preoccupation with a culture in retrograde. So much of this concern manifests itself in the era, where anxieties about increased numbers of immigrants would signal an end to a “unified” American identity. In this greater cultural context, the era's sociologists offer warnings about the “alien's” ability to assimilate. For William Graham Sumner, Franklin Giddings, and Edward Ross, so much of their work becomes examples of efforts to find and use biological evidence of an inherent inferiority among the lower classes as justification for perpetuating Anglo-American dominance in culture's social organization. This article charts not only the cultural context for writers' interest in degeneration and atavism but also the extent to which literary texts register and engage with this preoccupation, thus signaling how this sub-genre becomes a site onto which these fears and concerns are projected.

Keywords: culture, American naturalists, atavism, degeneration

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