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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at the effects of capitalism and social stratification on notions of class identity in two groups of American realist novels. First, it analyzes a pair of literary responses by William Dean Howells to the 1886 Chicago Haymarket bombing as the lead-in to a discussion of realist works about voluntary downward class mobility or “vital contact.” With Howells’s A Hazard of New Fortunes as a reference point and paradigm, the chapter also explores the ideologies implicit in several novels about upward social mobility, noting how both groups of texts are ultimately guided by a genteel perspective positioned between dominant and subordinate classes. In similar ways, the novels treated in the chapter balance middle-class loyalties against identities from higher and lower on the social scale while sending messages of both complicity and subversion on the subject of capitalist class relations.

Keywords: capitalism, social class, Haymarket bombing, vital contact, upward mobility, proletarian realism, settlement workers, labor movement, poverty, radicalism

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