AMERICAN CULTURE OF SERVITUDE: THE PROBLEM OF DOMESTIC SERVICE IN ANTEBELLUM LITERATURE AND CULTURE
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Marion Rust
My dissertation argues that domestic service alters a culture’s relationship to the laboring body. I theorize this relationship via popular literary and cultural antebellum texts to explore the effects of servitude as a trope. Methodologically, each chapter reads a literary text in context with social and legal paradigms to 1) demonstrate that servitude undergirds myriad articulations of antebellum power and difference; 2) show how servitude inflects the construction of these paradigms; and 3) trace Americans’ changing relationship to the concept of servitude from the Early Republic through the Civil War.
I begin with James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823), exploring the famous Leather-stocking character – not (as has canonically been the case) as an icon of American independence, but as an icon of American servitude. I historicize this reading with the legal history of master/servant statutes in the early nineteenth century. While public opinion quarantined servitude to an oppressed racial minority, the apparatuses of the law were dramatically expanding servitude’s purview, rendering the master/servant relation the touchstone from which to understand all employment relations.
Following, my second chapter examines Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home, Who’ll Follow? (1833). I show that Kirkland’s text dramatizes the narrativity of identity-formation and its potential class consequences. Throughout, Kirkland suggests that this is particularly a women’s problem, whose narratives of self are charged with maintaining the narratives of the family and, synecdochically, the nation.
Maria Susanna Cummins’s The Lamplighter (1854) is a revolutionary intervention into the narratives of laborless-ness. I read the adoptions within the novel alongside the legalization of bounded servitude for children, since antebellum minors could be adopted or sign indentures if doing so was determined to be in their “best interest.”
In my fourth and final chapter, I examine Civil War draft resistance. In her House and Home Papers columns for The Atlantic (1863-4), Harriet Beecher Stowe turned to the tropes of servitude to make sense of these violent eruptions. Yet this strategy laid bare servitude’s place as the basis for many other forms of state power (including military service) and servitude’s incompatibility with principles of individual sovereignty.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Holliger, Andrea, "AMERICAN CULTURE OF SERVITUDE: THE PROBLEM OF DOMESTIC SERVICE IN ANTEBELLUM LITERATURE AND CULTURE" (2017). Theses and Dissertations--English. 61.
American Literature Commons, Literature in English, North America Commons, Women's History Commons, Women's Studies Commons