he American dream in selected American fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries : meanings, revision and displacement
The present research studies the revisionary aspect of the American Dream in selected fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It shows how the concept takes on a revisionary dimension in American fiction, either at national or international levels, by negotiating a previous literature. The process of revision, at its heart, carries within it the displacement of the concept, either in history or in geography. In the nineteenth century, the American Dream was given a nationwide vision in the fiction of the antebellum writers, who dreamed of unifying the American culture, economy and government to form one single nation distinct from Europe. In the postbellum period, regional writers revise the antebellum literature, claiming the specificity of their regions and the impossibility of unifying culture, economy and government, because of the diversity of ethnicity and geography in the American vast land. The American Dream is, thus, given a regional vision in their fiction. In the turn of the twentieth century, American literature revises the English thought in relation to some issues that characterized the era, such as urbanization, education, woman and marriage. The American Dream in this period takes on an international dimension by misreading universal issues and giving them an American understanding. During the inter-war period, the American Dream is negotiated between urban and rural visions in the literature of the 1920s and the 1930s. This is apparent in the fiction of the 1930s, which gives the concept a rural vision, revising the literature of the 1920s, which gives it an urban vision. The revisionary meanings of the American Dream are the result of its mythical, psychological, historical and geographical aspects, which make it subject to change at each time the conditions of life change. The psychological aspect of the American Dream is treated in the light of Harold Bloom’s theory of Revision explained in his books The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and The Map of Misreading (1975). In these two books, Bloom draws a relationship between writers and their precursors, and explains the process of influence and revision in Freudian psychological terms of son/father relationship. Revision is associated in this thesis with T.S. Eliot’s “sense of tradition” developed in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). The geographical and historical aspects of the American Dream are studied in relation to the process of Displacement, as explained in Northrop Frye’s book Anatomy of Criticism (1957), and consolidated by what Edward Said would call in his Orientalism (1978) the author’s “Strategic Location”. The reason is that the revisionary aspect of the American Dream carries within it geographical and historical displacements, due to the author’s geographical and historical locations and his relation with his literary tradition.