Good housekeeping, good homesteading
Gallagher, Patrick Joseph
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The adventurous and domestic muses are the warp and woof of the fabric of American culture, and these two worldviews have competed for preeminence from the beginning of American history. Being a family man and a farmer as well as a writer, it is not surprising that Wendell Berry espouses domestic ideology and sees himself as a defender of the domestic tradition in America. As such, his fiction is inspired by the domestic muse and shares similarities with the domestic-pastoral literary tradition. I begin this study by tracing the history of the domestic tradition in America from John Winthrop’s sermon "A Modell of Christian Charity" through the nineteenth-century cult of domesticity and into the twentieth century. I show that Berry’s fiction is best discussed and understood using the terms and conventions of the domestic-pastoral literary tradition: his plots are driven by concerns related to marriage, home, and farm; his characters are presented as relatively good or bad according to how well they conform to the standards of success as defined by domestic-pastoral ideology; and all of the important themes concern relationships to family members, neighbors, and home. Chapter Two shows how Berry started to idealize home and farm life in his fiction after moving back to Kentucky in the mid 1960s. The influence of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on Berry as a writer is also discussed. Berry’s entire corpus can be seen as a response to the ideological battle between adventurousness and domesticity being played out in Twain’s masterpiece. Chapter Three addresses the ways in which Berry domesticates the humor of the Old Southwest tradition in his short story cycle Watch with Me. The manner in which all of Berry’s fiction is not only ideologically but also formally domestic is also considered. Chapter Four explains how Berry espouses a domestic economic ideology that is both communitarian and local. Chapter Five addresses the contrary nature of Berry’s domesticity and explains how his domestic ideology is paradoxically adventurous and revolutionary. That chapter also places Berry’s work in an international context by pointing out the similarities between his fiction and contemporary post-colonial writing.